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Force India simmers over 'lost fairytale'
26 November 2012
At one point in Sao Paulo on Sunday it looked like there could be a famous first-time victory for Force India, after Nico Hulkenberg led for 30 of the 71 laps of the 2012 F1 Brazilian Grand Prix.
But the first safety car deployment for debris on the Interlagos track closed up the field and wiped out the lead that Hulkenberg and second-place driver Jenson Button had over the rest of the field; and then a subsequent drive-thru penalty for Hulkenberg for causing a collision with Lewis Hamilton also angered the team.
"For a while it looked like we were heading for a fairlytale result with Nico leading for so much of the race and showing his skill in the tricky conditions," said Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley. "We had a great car today and had the pace to win, but it was not meant to be."
Fernley expressed his doubts about whether the first safety car on lap 22 was really called for.
"I would question the deployment of the first safety car, which we believe could have been covered under waved yellows," he said, later telling reporters in Sao Paulo that the decision to scramble the safety car for a track clean up was a "joke" when it should have been handled under local double waved yellows.
Fernley even angrily compared the situation to the US stock car series NASCAR, which has become notorious of late for finding a reason to throw a full course yellow to make races more exciting if the field is becoming too strung out.
The team did make the most of the situation by bringing their driver in for a 'free' pit stop and change of tyres under the yellows, which enabled him to stay in front until lap 48 when a mistake by Hulkenberg allowed Lewis Hamilton to get past.
A few laps later, Hulkenberg was able to close right up on the back of Hamilton down the start/finish straight when the McLaren was held up trying to pass the slow Marussia of Timo Glock. Hulkenberg took the inside line into turn 1 to pass both cars, but found that another backmarker - Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen - was also just going though the corner up ahead, forcing the German to try sticking to a tighter inside line than he really wanted.
In the greasy conditions caused by the persistent drizzle, that was enough to result in the Force India car losing rear end grip and slide into Hamilton's front left suspension. That put Hamilton out of the race, and cost McLaren the valuable second place in the constructors championship to Ferrari.
Hulkenberg was able to continue running, but was handed a drive-thru penalty that dropped him out of a podium position. Fernley felt that this had been harsh and that the stewards should have waited and investigated the issue after the race given that it wasn't a straightforward clash between Hulkenberg and Hamilton.
"We were surprised by the drive-through for Nico," Fernley admitted. "[We] feel it could have been investigated after the race because there were three cars involved."
Fernley told reporters after the race that he was confident that if the matter had been investigated post-race they had the data to convince the stewards that it hadn't been a simple case of Hulkenberg making a mistake and that the backmarkers - Kovalainen especially - contributed to the accident by not obeying blue flags instructing them to move over for the race leaders.
For his part, Hamilton made it clear that he felt the incident had been down to Hulkenberg: "The dude did not even come and say sorry," he said. "That is what happens when you are racing with the less experienced."
As for Hulkenberg, he was looking on the bright side of things.
"Fifth place is still a super result to end the season and I think the team did an excellent job this weekend. I hope they enjoyed the race - it's a nice leaving present in my last race," he said, as he exits the team to join Sauber in 2013.
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