Lewis Hamilton yesterday lost his case against the penalty that cost him his victory in the Belgian Grand Prix after the FIA Court of Appeal ruled that his McLaren team's appeal was inadmissible.
After the race on 7 September, stewards ruled that Hamilton had cut a chicane while taking the lead from Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari and even though he handed back the place in accordance with the rules, a 25-second penalty was subsequently added to his race time. Had the incident not occurred within the final five laps of the event, they would either have imposed a drive-through penalty or a stop-and-go penalty.
After lengthy deliberation, and detailed representations from McLaren's lawyer, Mark Philips QC, the International Court of Appeal judges Philippe Narmino (Monaco), Xavier Conesa (Spain), Harry Duijm (Netherlands), Thierry Julliard (Switzerland) and Erich Sedelmayer (Austria) ruled that a drive-through penalty had been imposed at the end of the race rather than a time penalty, in accordance with Article 16.3 of the FIA 2008 Formula One Sporting Regulations, and that under Article 152 of the International Sporting Code drive-through penalties are not susceptible to appeal.
McLaren had placed much store on the fact that the Toro Rosso team were last year allowed to appeal against a similar time penalty applied to their driver Tonio Liuzzi who dropped from eighth to ninth place in the Japanese GP in Fuji after overtaking under a yellow flag. But the Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that that decision had been flawed. They also chose to ignore evidence from McLaren that race director Charlie Whiting had twice informed their sporting director Davy Ryan that Hamilton had done enough in handing the lead back to Raikkonen immediately after he missed the final chicane.
Hamilton himself testified during Monday afternoon's session at the court in Paris, after lawyers had spent the morning arguing whether the appeal was admissible. And he had a heated exchange when cross-examined by Ferrari's lawyer, Nigel Tozzi QC. The latter goaded Hamilton at one stage and elicited the angry comment: from the world championship leader: "Are you a racing driver? No!
"I have been a racing driver since I was eight years old and I know pretty much every single manoeuvre in the book, and that's why I'm the best at my job. We are talking about a skilled driver under intense pressure making a split-second decision which no-one, not unless they are in Formula One, can comprehend.
"Your heart is battling whilst you are racing. The last thing I wanted to do is crash into him [Raikkonen]. When you have gone so far, you want to finish the race. We had a great battle and there was no need to take stupid risks, so I had to cut the chicane. I've since studied the footage about 10 times and I can remember it vividly like it was yesterday. I believe I then gave the advantage back. I honestly, hand on heart feel I did so."
As he left the court on Monday on his way to the first night race in Singapore this weekend, Hamilton said: "Whatever happens I am not worried either way. I just hope the judges see the truth. I am a racing driver, driven by excellence. It's what I do. It's what I enjoy doing. I am now just going to focus on my next race and hopefully winning there. I am one point ahead and that's how I will go into it."
Following the outcome, Hamilton added: "People will probably expect me to be depressed, but that isn't me. All I want to do now is put this matter behind me and get on with what we drivers do best: racing each other. We're racers, we're naturally competitive, and we love to overtake. Overtaking is difficult, and it feels great when you manage to pull off a great passing manoeuvre. If it pleases the spectators, it's better still. So I'm disappointed, yes, but not depressed."
Martin Whitmarsh, chief operating officer of McLaren Group, said: "We are naturally disappointed. No-one wants to win grands prix in court; but we felt that Lewis had won the Belgian Grand Prix, on track, in an exciting and impressive manner. Our legal team and witnesses calmly explained this, as well as our belief that the appeal should be admissible, to the FIA International Court of Appeal. It nonetheless decided that our appeal was inadmissible. We will now concentrate on the remaining four races of the season."
As a result of the ruling, Hamilton has a single point lead over Ferrari's Felipe Massa – 78 to 77 – with four races to come.
Formula One: Leading standings
Lewis Hamilton 78
Felipe Massa 77
Robert Kubica 64
Kimi Raikkonen 57
Nick Heidfeld 53