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Page last updated at 09:09 GMT, Tuesday, 29 June 2010 10:09 UK

Hamilton v Alonso fight reignites

Sebastian Vettel wins the European Grand Prix

European Grand Prix in 90 seconds

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

A furious Fernando Alonso suggested the European Grand Prix result had been "manipulated".

The Ferrari driver believed the Lewis Hamilton safety car-line incident and the subsequent ineffective drive-through penalty notified 15 laps after Hamilton had committed the offence - and served three laps after that - was a travesty.

But emotion was clouding Alonso's judgement.

When you look beneath the surface, examine the incident and its implications step by step, the explanations are rather more mundane than a conspiracy against Alonso and Ferrari.

The Spaniard's anger was understandable, in that he had obeyed the rules and effectively been punished while Hamilton broke them and effectively got off scot-free because the penalty did not cost him a place.

Fernando Alonso

Alonso frustrated after respecting rules

Before the incident Alonso had been in third place, pressuring Hamilton hard, and afterwards the Ferrari driver was back in a disastrous 11th place, his home race ruined at a crucial time in the championship battle. Hamilton, meanwhile, remained in second place to the end.

The incident, involving as it did Hamilton, McLaren and the FIA's Charlie Whiting pressed all of Alonso's volatile emotion buttons.

There is history here: bad blood, and simmering resentment. The circumstances of Sunday just happened to conspire to bring it all to the surface again and elements within Ferrari poured fuel onto the fire.

Alonso's emotions are an intrinsic part of what makes him such a very great driver.

They are the fire within him and they have combined with a great racing brain and a brutally competitive soul to give us moments like passing Michael Schumacher around the outside of 130R, apex speed 208mph, at the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix.

They and his fantastic gift are the raw material of his two world titles.

But, like all of the drivers, Alonso has an Achilles' heel.

It took the speed of a rookie called Hamilton and then team principal Ron Dennis's overbearing condescension in 2007 to reveal it.

Were it not for Hamilton, Alonso would probably now still be at McLaren as a four-time champion and pitching for a fifth.

Instead, he has had to endure two barren years in second-rate cars and now is having to build up his momentum all over again.

His reaction to Hamilton often being slightly faster caused him to blow a fuse. To him it did not compute, and the way Dennis handled that situation made things much worse. In the aftermath of Hungary '07, their relationship was dead and any possibility of the originally envisioned mutual long-term future was over.

In 2006 - before joining McLaren - Alonso was given a ridiculous penalty in qualifying at Monza for supposedly delaying Felipe Massa's Ferrari and the target of Alonso's ire in the aftermath of that was race director Charlie Whiting.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton unconcerned with Alonso claims

That was the previous occasion on which Alonso publically announced that F1 was not a sport, just a business.

It was Whiting who handled the safety car and penalty situation at Valencia on Sunday - but on this occasion, when looked at in detail, it is clear he acted absolutely correctly and that Alonso and Ferrari were simply unfortunate.

Whiting scrambled the safety car and medical car as soon as he saw Mark Webber's Red Bull airborne at a point on the circuit where the cars are travelling at about 190mph.

The safety car's job in this situation was to escort the medical car to the scene of the accident at turn 12. It exited the pit lane which funnels into Turn One just as Hamilton and Alonso were coming through that corner.

On seeing the safety car to his right, Hamilton's instinctive reaction was to lift off. He then realised that actually they had yet to reach the safety car line, so he accelerated again.

Had it not been for that momentary hesitation, Hamilton would have passed the safety car before the line and thereby been allowed to make for the pits at racing speed, so long as he acted accordingly to the yellow flags at the accident site.

But he just failed to reach the line before the safety car - and according to the rules should then have remained behind the safety car.

Hamilton says he realised it was a close call but was not sure if he'd passed before the line or after it. He chose to race to the pits at racing speed.

Alonso witnessed the whole thing, was certain Hamilton has transgressed and spent much of his race radioing the team that they should press the matter with Whiting.

Whiting was primarily concerned with attending to the Webber accident.

There is the option of having the safety car wave cars past until it picks up the leader but it is not a regulatory requirement.

Whiting adjudged that escorting the medical car was the priority - without regard to which competitors it affected - and so no-one was waved through until after the accident site.

This lost Alonso 21 seconds and nine places to Hamilton, as those cars that had pitted the previous lap - because they had not reached the pit-entry road when the safety car was deployed - lost way less time.

Upon the resumption of racing, it took seven laps before it was announced that Hamilton was under investigation and a further four before the drive-through penalty was confirmed.

The penalty has to be served within three laps of notification so Hamilton therefore had a total of 13 laps in which to pull out a big gap on those behind, meaning that he did not even lose his second place as he took the penalty.

Only once the Webber incident had been cleared and the race restarted could Whiting begin looking at the Hamilton incident. In determining whether an offence had been committed he had a few key difficulties.

There was no timekeeping loop at that part of the track, so the evidence was going to rely on footage and the transponders of each car - Hamilton's and the safety car - as they crossed the safety car line.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali

Domenicali angered by McLaren punishment

The in-car footage from Hamilton was far from decisive in that it was such a close call that the angle of the view could not support a conclusion. He then ordered aerial footage from the official Formula 1 Management helicopter - and this took some time to be found.

The complication of the transponders in the two cars was that they were almost certainly at differing lengths from the frontal extremities of each car, so Whiting was seeking this information too. Only once he had all this compiled did he feel confident in confirming that an offence had taken place.

At this point, he could have chosen a harsher penalty that would have had a greater detrimental effect on Hamilton's position. But the precedent for this offence is a drive-through. It is not in the regulations, but is at the race director's discretion.

Whiting was reluctant to subjectively apply a different penalty - because doing that would establish a new precedent: that the outcome of the race should be at the whim of whatever the race director wished it to be. Then every decision he made would be liable to be seen as 'manipulation'.

What happened on Sunday was the opposite of manipulation: just a systematic, consistent response that took no account of who suffered or who gained. Under the circumstances that applied, it was absolutely correct.

Perhaps a new regulation should be established now to empower Whiting to apply a more fitting penalty for this offence in future.

But there was absolutely no evidence at Valencia of manipulation; quite the contrary.

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for more than 10 years. He is the award-winning author of several books



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see also
Alonso eager to forget Valencia
29 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Valencia GP damages F1 - Ferrari
28 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso angry at 'unfair' result
27 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Webber 'lucky to be in one piece'
27 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Vettel beats Hamilton in Euro GP
27 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
European Grand Prix photos
27 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
European Grand Prix as it happened
27 Jun 10 |  Formula 1


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