Lewis Hamilton’s team McLaren last night vowed to appeal after the British driver was stripped of victory on a day of high drama at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Hamilton looked to have increased his world championship lead over Ferrari rival Felipe Massa after taking the chequered flag at Spa-Francorchamps. But stewards ruled Hamilton had illegally cut a corner while tussling with Kimi Raikkonen on the penultimate lap, and imposed a 25-second penalty, dropping the McLaren driver to third.
To make matters worse for Hamilton, that handed victory to Massa, and slashed the Englishman’s lead over the Brazilian in the drivers’ standings from eight points to two.
McLaren said they intended to appeal the penalty, arguing that race data proved Hamilton had deliberately slowed to let Raikkonen pass him after cutting the chicane. However, the appeal process is mired in complications, and there were doubts last night as to whether rules allowed such sanctions to be overturned.
It was a bitterly disappointing end to a rollercoaster day for Hamilton, who appeared to have taken a huge step towards winning his first world championship in only his second season. Having lost the lead to Raikkonen with an early spin, Hamilton battled to stay in contention before overtaking the world champion in controversial circumstances with one lap remaining.
While jockeying for position, Raikkonen forced Hamilton to run off the track. He cut the chicane but dropped back behind the Finn, before overtaking him on the next straight.
Rain then wreaked havoc on the conclusion, Hamilton losing the lead with another spin before Raikkonen did likewise and then crashed out of the race altogether. Ferrari had the last laugh, but insisted they had not complained about Hamilton.