Following a decision by FIA Stewards not to penalise Lewis Hamilton for hampering Romain Grosjean‘s efforts during the final part of qualifying, the Frenchman and Hamilton’s team boss Toto Wolff have entered into a war of words over the incident.
Whilst winding up for a qualifying run, Hamilton was crawling through the entry to Vale, suddenly picking up pace when noticing Grosjean behind completing a hot lap of his own. However, the stewards released an unusual statement, suggesting the Mercedes driver was somewhat guilty of the accusation but also sparing him of any punishment for it.
“The stewards concluded while Grosjean may potentially have been affected by the presence of Hamilton he was not impeded,” read a statement from the FIA.
Grosjean was left aggrieved at the lack of penalty, having felt the Brit’s actions had cost him a significant amount of time and the chance to overhaul Stoffel Vandoorne for what would have been a net eighth place, after accounting for Valtteri Bottas‘ gearbox penalty.
Grosjean explained to Motorsport.com that he was “surprised by the wording: ‘the driver behind has not been impeded’.
“If losing 0.35-0.4 seconds in one corner is not being impeded, I am very surprised. I think it opens room for messy qualifying and the rules are pretty clear.”
He felt the decision had come down to the driver accused of the blocking, implying there an agenda on the part of the stewards to avoid interfering in the championship battle.
“I know there is a world title going on at the front but we are in a position where we actually fight as hard as the boys at the front and I was impeded today. How can I put it? Maybe if it was another driver there would have been something. It does feel sometimes that there are two types of decision.”
“I think the title race is an important one, but again we are fighting as hard as those boys. We have got a lot of people working and yes, I lost 0.35s in two corners. If next time I have to get with my front wing into his rear diffuser to show that I have been impeded…”
“We have got very clear rules in qualifying and with 10 cars in Q3, we should not have those problems.”
Grosjean continued to suggest there was an imbalance of how punishments were handed out by stewards based on the relative competitiveness of teams and drivers, referring to his own previous run-ins with the stewards.
“I got a five-place grid penalty in China for being too quick under double yellow and today I lost position and nothing is happening,” he continued. “It is frustrating that there seems to be big inconsistency between the decision and who is doing the manoeuvre.”
Mercedes team principal Wolff was in no mood for Grosjean’s protestations however, replying angrily to his suggestions that the stewards had included any kind of bias towards Hamilton in the decision.
“There are some that moan all the time,” he retorted. “They just continue moaning. I don’t want to even comment.
“If Romain Grosjean comes out and starts asking for penalties for other drivers, you should rather look at his track record. He should be happy he is driving in F1.”
Haas’ own team boss Guenther Steiner was quick to defend his driver, framing the scenario in the context of a role reversal.
“If you step back and ask yourself, what would they have done if Romain had done that to Hamilton? That I think should answer that.”
He explained the crux of the issue was the difference in perspective on such penalties, and how stewards appear to assess whether a penalty should be handed out on the merits of the driver’s profile and championship position, rather than on the merit of the actions leading up to the incident.
“Something needs to be done. Because if he says, ‘that wouldn’t have made your position better’. I know. But if we would have impeded Hamilton, if we get penalised, it means a lot to us because we go back on the grid and we lose points. We both have something to lose, so don’t do it.
“He’s a world champion, he’s better than that. Why does he need to impede? And as soon as someone is in his way, it’s a disaster. We need to get a little bit more equal because there’s always a discussion, how do we bring the field closer together?
“We need to get it together, and there seems to be never any consistency with the penalties. It’s always who is who.”