Williams' Pastor Maldonado has inherited his maiden F1 pole position for this afternoon's Spanish Grand Prix after original polesitter Lewis Hamilton was excluded from qualifying yesterday evening. By failing to return to the pitlane after his final flying lap in Q3, Hamilton broke a crucial rule in the regulations, giving the stewards no option but to strip him of pole position and hand it over to Maldonado for Williams' first dry-weather pole since 2005.
After setting his pole-winning laptime of 1m21.707s at the end of Q3, Hamilton failed to make it back to pitlane, stopping between turns 8 and 9 on his in-lap because of a shortage of fuel, thereby breaking Article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations. McLaren later confirmed that there had been only 1.3 litres of fuel in his tank when it was returned to the pits on a flatbed truck soon after, which would not have been enough for him to return to the pits under his own power and still be able to provide the FIA with a 1 litre fuel sample for analysis.
Stoppages on-track at the end of qualifying are only permitted under force majeure, a clause which the stewards insisted didn't apply in this instance because it had simply been an error on the team's part in fuelling the car before Hamilton went out on-track.
“The Stewards heard from the team representative Mr Sam Michael [McLaren Sporting Director] who stated that the car stopped on the circuit for reasons of force majeure,” read a statement from the stewards. “A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount for sampling purposes.
“As the amount of fuel put into the car is under the complete control of the Competitor the Stewards cannot accept this as a case of force majeure.”
The stewards therefore ruled Hamilton had breached Article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations and decided to exclude him entirely from the results of qualifying. He will still be allowed to start the race, but from the very back of the grid.
“The Stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations and the Competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the Qualifying Session. The Competitor is however allowed to start the race from the back of the grid,” concluded their statement.
Article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations states that “Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.” In the regulations, qualifying is counted as an official practice session.
Lewis Hamiton was understandably dejected after learning of his disqualification from qualifying, having initially taken pole by more than half a second from the Williams.
“This is such a disappointment. Today's qualifying session was one of the best I've ever driven – the whole car was just rolling so smoothly – it felt fantastic,” said Hamilton. “The team had done a fantastic job to bring the updates here this weekend – so I want to say a huge thank-you to all the men and women at the MTC for working day and night to get all the new components here this weekend.
“But, on my slowing-down lap, my engineers told me to stop on the track, and I didn't know why. Later, to hear that I'd been excluded from qualifying, was of course extremely disappointing.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said they accepted the stewards ruling and are now focused on scoring points in this afternoon's race, with the sister car of Jenson Button starting from tenth on the grid.
“[Hamilton] was unable to finish his slow-down lap – and, since we accept that the stewards didn't agree with our interpretation of force majeure, we didn't contest their decision to penalise him,” said Whitmarsh.
“Our aim is therefore now to maximise the points we can score tomorrow, and you may rest assured that both Jenson and Lewis will approach the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix with their customary combative ambition.”
The ruling hands Williams' Pastor Maldonado his maiden pole position after a superb performance in qualifying. The Venezuelan was quickest in Q2 and took provisional pole with a time of 1m22.285s, beating home hero Fernando Alonso by less than a tenth, before Hamilton crossed the line to snatch it from him seconds later.
Joining Maldonado on the front row will be Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, which will be the Spaniard's first front row start since last year's Canadian Grand Prix, some 11 months ago.
The revised starting grid can be found here.