An extraordinary interview given by Lewis Hamilton in the aftermath of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, in which he lashed out at the FIA’s race stewards, hinting at potential racism, could land the McLaren driver in deep trouble with Formula One’s governing body.
Hamilton was handed two drive-through penalties, the second retrospective, en route to sixth place in a chaotic and thrilling race.
Having been summoned to see the stewards to discuss the second incident, a tangle with Williams’ Pastor Maldonado which forced the Venezuelan rookie out of the race, a visibly furious Hamilton appeared to question their motives.
“You know what? Out of six races I’ve been to the stewards five times,” he told the BBC. “It’s a joke. It’s an absolute frickin’ joke.”
Asked why he might be such a magnet for them, Hamilton said: “Maybe it’s because I’m black?" before adding: "That’s what Ali G says. I dunno.”
The fact that the Hamilton laughed slightly while referring to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, would seem to suggest that it was merely a flippant remark from a deeply irritated driver.
That was certainly Hamilton’s defence. After intense discussions with McLaren’s media men and with his father and former manager, Anthony, he went back in to see the stewards before finishing his interviews for the day.
“I've just been to the stewards to make peace,” he said.
"It was a bit of a joke, which wasn't funny at the time. I made them aware that when emotions are high - and it's very intense at the end of those kind of races - you don't always say the right thing.
“We've made our peace. They accepted my explanation, they understood. We all shook hands afterwards. They said it was a tough weekend, let's move on, and they all wished me well for the season."
It remains to be seen whether the powers-that-be back at the FIA’s headquarters in Paris are of the same opinion. Hamilton’s comments were broadcast on the BBC’s live post-race show and published soon after on the corporation’s website.
They may feel he only apologised when he and his McLaren team realised how his comments might be construed.
The threat of Article 151c, which forbids competitors from bringing the sport into disrepute, is ever present although it is called on less readily in Jean Todt’s reign than it was under his predecessor Max Mosley. Hamilton said he was not worried.
“They [the stewards] said at the end that they would make sure other people in the FIA understand," he said, "and that anybody else who has heard it and misunderstood, that they'll clarify it with them and it won't go any further than the meeting room.
“Should I have said it or shouldn’t I? Like I said I was trying to be funny, but it wasn't funny.
"You're not always right when you're trying to be funny. Sometimes you really put your foot in it and you offend people.”
Hamilton may find he also has to apologise to the drivers with whom he collided, Maldonado and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, after they too came in for some stinging criticism in his post-race interview. Asked what had happened in the two incidents, Hamilton planted the blame squarely with them and called the pair “ridiculous”.
"[Massa] turned in so early. Of course I get the penalty, which is usual,” said Hamilton who added that he felt victimised for driving in an entertaining manner.
“He held me up in qualifying and I got the penalty. He turned into me [today] and I got the penalty.
“Then I went up the inside of Maldonado and you can see on the screen he turned in a good car length too early and crashed into me. It’s ridiculous man. These drivers are absolutely frickin’ ridiculous. Stupid.”
The comments capped an ignominious week for Hamilton whose behaviour recently has come under close scrutiny.
He raised eyebrows after criticising Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, both Toro Rosso drivers and his own team in the wake of his second place finish at the previous weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
It has certainly been a baptism of fire for Hamilton’s new manager, Simon Fuller, and his XIX Entertainment company.
Neither Fuller nor any of his employees were present in Monaco but they may be concerned by these latest developments and by Hamilton’s close escape last month when his friend, Adrian Sutil, got into a fight with Renault owner Eric Lux while they were out celebrating his Chinese Grand Prix victory.
Sutil may yet face charges for physical assault and GBH. Former driver Martin Brundle said Hamilton needed to start looking at himself.
“The problem with Lewis is that it's always someone's fault," he said. “You wonder if he needs a bit of a mindset change on that.”
Lewis Hamilton's interview with the BBC's Lee McKenzie
Q: You’ve just been to see stewards. What’s the latest?
A: You know what? Out of six races I’ve been to the stewards five times. It’s a joke. It’s an absolute frickin’ joke.
Q: What happened with Massa and Maldonaldo?
A: “[Massa] turned in so early. I tried to go over the kerb to avoid him but we were stuck together. Of course I get the penalty which is usual. He held me up in qualifying and I got the penalty.
He turned into me [today] and I got the penalty. Then I went up the inside of Maldonado and you can see on the screen he turned in a good car length too early and crashed into me. It’s ridiculous man.
These drivers are absolutely frickin’ ridiculous. Stupid.
Q: Why are you such a magnet for stewards? You obviously feel you’re being targeted?
A: Maybe it’s because I’m black. [laughs] That’s what Ali G says. I dunno…