Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium - Lewis Hamilton has accused Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, of trying to pervert the result of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The British driver made the extraordinary claim within minutes of completing his 58th victory in his 200th race with a performance worthy of Spa’s famous sylvan track.
The accusation related to the deployment of the safety car 14 laps from the end, following the all-Force India collision involving the hot tempers of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.
The safety car allowed Sebastian Vettel a chance to get past Hamilton, or so the Mercedes man thought. Vettel switched to the faster ultrasoft tyres - an option not open to Hamilton, whose supply had been used up earlier in the weekend - as the contest was slowed for four laps.
Hamilton called for the race to be restarted in earnest, asking over the radio: "Why is the safety car out? There’s literally no debris.
"This is a BS (bull****) call from the stewards."
In fact, the instruction came from race control, headed by Charlie Whiting, rather than the stewards.
Hamilton, having held off the Vettel surge when the safety car peeled away and so halving the points deficit in the standings to seven, questioned the motivation of the race officials.
"I felt it was a bit like Nascar, where they bring out the safety car for no reason," he said. "I think they wanted to see a race. That’s why they did it, for sure. I felt it was unnecessary."
Hamilton’s comments apart, he drove as perhaps nobody else could in defending his position, as Vettel planted the nose of his Ferrari like a red poker behind him. Here were two men operating a sixth sense at 320km/h, and Hamilton got the better of it. Vettel moved fractionally too close to his rival and had to pull out of the tow to save himself from being dragged into Hamilton’s rear. The pursuer pulled alongside his prey, turning the duel into a drag race.
Hamilton orchestrated the moment like a cat playing with a mouse, held on to the lead, and then banged in nine more lacerating laps until the chequered flag.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff later said the safety car had actually helped Hamilton, because it allowed him to get his blistered tyres changed without losing ground. Vettel finished second and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo third, in front of 100 000 fans, an estimated 80 000 of whom travelled from Holland in orange-clad support of Max Verstappen, who suffered his sixth ‘did not finish’ of the season.
There was little to warm the heart in the first half of the race. Hamilton found it relatively plain sailing, his record-equalling 68th career pole converted into a good start and a commanding position.
But it was not entirely calm at either Force India or McLaren. Ocon and Perez had come together in Azerbaijan and were destined to do so again on the entry to Eau Rouge. The Frenchman’s front wing was bust and Perez’s right-rear tyre slit open. Hence the controversial safety car, and more strong words.
This was Ocon’s blunt take on the crash: "What is the point of doing that? It cost the team a lot of points. He’s supposed to be a professional driver but he did not show that today. He is about to have a child - does he want to die? I will tell him the truth."
Perez, who later retired from the race, hit back, said: "It was not my fault. I was protecting my line. The tension started when he put me in the wall," he said, referring to the incident at the Azerbaijan race. Otmar Szafnauer, Force India’s chief operating officer, said he thought Perez was at fault and that new rules would be brought in to stop them racing so recklessly.