Lewis Hamilton was just disqualified from his third-place finish in the Australian GP for giving false statements to race stewards regarding a pass under safety car conditions. We dissect the whole mess below.
Sunday's Australian Grand Prix finished with Brawn GP’s Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in first and second place, with Jarno Trulli of Toyota in third. Soon afterward, Trulli was given a 25-second penalty for passing Hamilton under safety car conditions, pushing him down to 12th place, handing Lewis Hamilton the podium. Until today.
What triggered the whole sequence of events began three laps from the end of the race. Robert Kubica of BMW made a move to pass Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull for second place. Vettel defended his position in an aggressive manner, which led to the front wings of their cars tangling up. After separation, Kubica crashed into a wall, raining debris on the track. The safety car was called in to lead the field until officials could clean up the BMW’s bits.
When the safety car is out, drivers cannot pass each other, except if someone leaves the track. This is what happened at Turn 15, as Jarno Trulli of Toyota—now running in third place after Kubica and Vettel crashed out—ran wide, and Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren passed him. This was captured on video by a spectator. Watch the action unfold in the first five seconds:
The race ended under safety car conditions, with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in the Brawns first and second—but then Jarno Trulli crossed the finish line in third. Which meant that he must have passed Hamilton on his way in: an illegal move behind the safety car (unless, of course, Hamilton ran wide at some point, akin to Trulli).
No footage exists of Trulli’s re-pass. He got on the podium with Button and Barrichelo, then a few hours after the race, he was promptly given a 25-second penalty for the re-pass, demoting him to 12th place, handing Hamilton the podium finish.
What Trulli had to say:
When the safety car came out towards the end of the race, Hamilton passed me [this is what we can see on the fan footage – Ed.] but soon after he suddenly slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road. I thought he had a problem so I overtook him as there was nothing else I could do.
Hamilton, immediately after the race to Speed TV’s reporter, claimed:
I was forced to go by [referring again to the pass captured on video – Ed.]. I slowed down as much as I could. I was told to let him back past, but I mean…I don’t know if that’s the regulations, and if it isn’t, then I should have really had third.
However, this is apparently not what he told the race stewards in his testimony of the incident—which was the testimony the steward partly based their penalty of Trulli on. There is no direct quote to be found, but he apparently stated that Trulli simply sped by him. Which, of course, is illegal under the safety car. But which may not be the truth.
The FIA has now reviewed the incident, issuing the following statement:
The Stewards having considered the new elements presented to them from the 2009 Australian Formula One Grand Prix, consider that driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes acted in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of the event by providing evidence deliberately misleading to the Stewards at the hearing on Sunday 29th March 2009, a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.
Under Article 158 of the International Sporting Code the driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and the competitor Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are excluded from the race classification for the 2009 Australian Grand Prix and the classification is amended accordingly.
These “new elements” are supposedly radio transmissions from the McLaren pits to Hamilton, telling him to slow down and force Trulli to pass him—in line with what he said to Speed TV’s reporter.
Basically, McLaren acted in a very shady way. This is what Brad Spurgeon of the NY Times wrote this morning from Malaysia, where the teams are getting ready for this weekend’s Grand Prix:
The story in the paddock is that Hamilton told the television reporter that the team had told him to let Trulli re-pass him because McLaren was worried that Hamilton should not have passed Trulli when Trulli went into the grass under the safety car. Hamilton had slowed down to let Trulli pass. But Hamilton did not tell this same story to the stewards, rather saying that Trulli had just sped past him.
As I waited in the heat of the afternoon outside the McLaren meeting area for some kind of statement, a German journalist with whom I was supposed to have an interview with Hamilton in a few minutes—the interview was canceled—quipped to me: “Hamilton is a perfect replacement for Michael Schumacher.”
So there you have it. McLaren has just joined Ferrari in the 0 points club, while the podium of the Australian Grand Prix is now Button, Barrichello and Trulli again. For the time being.
All we need now is for Max Mosley to march through the pits with a whip in his hand, spanking both Hamilton and Trulli on the rear ends while sweltering in the Indochina heat in his SS uniform to make this whole story more intriguing.
Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images, WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Image, PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images, Clive Mason/Getty Images