Leimer furious with late sprint penalty
23 April 2012
Fabio Leimer said that he was "obviously very disappointed" with how his GP2 sprint race at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir turned out on Sunday morning.
The Swiss driver was on track to win the second race of the weekend for Racing Engineering after having started on the front row of the reverse grid. He then had to overcome the threat of the two Lotus GP cars of Esteban Gutierrez and his rookie team mate James Calado, who had pulled out an early lead after a flying start from the second row but at the expense of wearing out his tyres early.
Leimer finally took the lead on lap 5 of 22 and looked to have the race well in hand, until word came down that the stewards were investigating Leimer for ignoring a yellow flag. The decision to hand him a drive-thru penalty came on lap 15, with Leimer crawling down pit lane three laps later. That dropped him down to 12th place, and with only four laps remaining there was little he could do to repair the damage.
"When there was a yellow flag in turn 4, I knew about it and therefore pushed during the corners before to be able to lift my foot off the throttle during the section with the yellow flag - as, most probably, most of the drivers did as well," he argued afterwards. "But I received a drive through penalty, which I think is a harsh decision - not only because it cost me a race win," he said.
"It is the first penalty I have had in my entire formula career relating to yellow flags and I am generally not one of the drivers, who are irresponsible when on track and causing dangerous situations," he pointed out. "I personally would have preferred they let me finish the race and look at the data after the race, which would have made it clear that I went slower under yellow."
"This has cost us the first race win of the season," sighed Thomas Couyotopoulo, the sporting director of Racing Engineering. "However, the stewards decided to religiously apply the rules and give a drive through penalty for ignoring yellow flags when Fabio was running all by himself in the lead and even lifted his foot off the throttle."
Leimer was in no doubt that victory had been his for the taking on Sunday.
"I am 100% sure we would have taken the win today," he said. "During the opening laps I saw that Calado and Gutierrez struggled and when I saw the gap, I went alongside Calado, who pushed me outside the track limits, but I was nevertheless able to pass him to take the lead.
"From that moment on I controlled the gap to the car behind me and I know I would have won today," he continued. "The car felt good and I went faster and faster."
His team mate Nathanaël Berthon also had a frustrating end to his Sunday race outing, running as high as tenth place at one point and targeting a points finish.
"I did a lot of overtaking today, but also managed my tyres very well," he said. "I was already up to P10 and I know I could have made up even more positions. I think P6 or P7 were possible for me today as I saw how the cars in front of me started to struggle.
"But then I had a problem with my left rear wheel - there must have been a little contact at the beginning of the race, which I didn't feel at all, but you can see the marks," he pointed out. "Then I probably took a curb too hard and the problem became worse and in the end the car was undrivable."
That left Berthon retiring in the pits on lap 15.
"It was the right choice to come to the pits to avoid more damage on the car," insisted Couyotopoulo. "We are understandably unhappy with today's race as we had a very good and fast car. However we have two more races here in Bahrain, so we are already thinking about next week's event."
While the F1 teams have already left Bahrain, the GP2 teams are staying on for an additional six days for a second round of the 2012 GP2 Series calendar.
Practice and qualifying are being held on the Friday morning, in a more condensed schedule than usual which will see the feature race being held the same afternoon. The sprint race will then be held on Saturday afternoon, allowing the GP2 teams to pack up and head for Europe in plenty of time for the next European round of the series in Barcelona on May 11-13.