Former champion blasts Hamilton penalty

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The Independent Online

Former world champion Niki Lauda has slammed the decision that saw Lewis Hamilton stripped of his Belgian Grand Prix victory as "the worst judgment in the history of F1."

Lauda was left incensed after the race stewards handed Hamilton a retrospective 25-second drive-through penalty for 'cutting a corner and gaining an advantage.'

The incident concerned, at the end of lap 42 of the 44-lap race and as rain began to fall, allowed Hamilton to move into the lead ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

However, the 23-year-old immediately conceded the lead back to the Finn, prior to conjuring a superb overtaking manoeuvre into the La Source hairpin.

On a greasy track, an enthralling cat-and-mouse game followed that culminated in Raikkonen sliding into a wall, and Hamilton claiming victory.

But two hours after the race the stewards intervened, awarding a penalty that demoted Hamilton to third, and as far as Lauda is concerned, also throwing the sport into chaos.

"This is the worst judgment in the history of F1, the most perverted judgment I have ever seen," lambasted three-times champion Lauda

"It's absolutely unacceptable when three functionaries (stewards) influence the championship like this.

"Hamilton did nothing wrong. He was on the outside, he then let him (Raikkonen) by, which is the rule, and afterwards he passed him.

"There was nothing special in what happened. Hamilton did the right thing in letting him by before again passing him."

Lauda feels Hamilton further underlined his title credentials, even if an eight-point lead after the race was whittled down to just two with the penalty over eventual winner Felipe Massa.

"It was an absolutely perfect drive from Hamilton, although I was disappointed with his spin on the second lap," added Lauda.

"That was unnecessary, but in the end he made up for it in much more complicated conditions, and he did a perfect race.

"It was very high risk at the end of the race for both of them, but he made fewer mistakes and won the race. He couldn't have done any better.

"He executed perfect car control when it was wet. He did a perfect job, won the race, and you can only take your cap off to him and congratulate him."

Lauda, who won his first two world titles with Ferrari in 1975 and 1977, and his last with McLaren in 1984, then had harsh words for Raikkonen who has now failed to win any of the last nine races.

"Kimi has not done a good job this season," assessed the 59-year-old Austrian, who these days works as a television pundit.

"He has been quick in races, but not in practice. Even in practice for this race he was disappointing because he could not get the grip level together in one lap.

"In this race he did a perfect job, until the end when he threw it away."

McLaren yesterday registered their intention to appeal, and now have until late tomorrow afternoon to confirm whether they will pursue such a course of action.

However, Article 152 of the FIA's International Sporting Code states a drive-through penalty is "not susceptible to appeal."

McLaren may choose to challenge this given the circumstances, and so take the matter to the International Court of Appeal, where a case would likely be heard before the end of the month.