Hamilton battles impossible odds
If Formula One's farcical rules were taken literally, Lewis Hamilton would start tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix from somewhere across the border in Germany.
As it is, the world champion's penalty, anticipated to be as high as 75 places, will consign him to the very back of the grid and to the garage for most of today's qualifying session, depriving thousands from seeing the fastest driver in the world take on one of its most fearsome tracks at full tilt.
The sport's engine rules are fiendishly difficult to understand but the simple consequence is that there is no point in Hamilton tackling qualifying, beyond one timed lap so he can enter the race, at Spa-Francorchamps today.
He will be last on the grid however fast he goes, hoping to pull off a victory no-one in F1 history has ever managed before.
Others have come close, memorably Northern Ireland's John Watson at Long Beach in 1983 when the McLaren driver won after starting 22nd of 26 cars, but none from last.
Watson made mincemeat of the opposition in one of the most astonishing wins of all time and has backed Hamilton to make it as high up as third tomorrow, and even higher if the unpredictable weather in the Ardennes intervenes.
"I would never discount the possibility of Lewis winning the grand prix," said Watson. "If conditions are changeable anything is possible."
This weekend Hamilton is paying the price for a series of mechanical failures by his Mercedes engine earlier in the year and F1's inability to come up with intelligible rules.
The restrictions on engines, limiting their use to just five a year, were designed to keep costs down. But all it has resulted in are paradoxical statements such as: Hamilton could take a 75-place grid penalty but start 22nd.
In previous years the world champion would have incurred a time penalty as well as a grid punishment, but that was scrapped when McLaren-Honda were burning through engines at a ferocious speed last year.
Jenson Button, another man who has won from far back, 14th on the grid in Hungary a decade ago, holds the record with a 70-place penalty in Mexico last year.
Hamilton's stood at 30 places last night, but it is thought Mercedes will change the parts on his engine again this morning before final practice, taking the grand total to 75. They may as well introduce all the parts they can now to avoid the chance of having to take any further penalties in future races.
All this rule chatter does a good job of distracting from what should be a fascinating race, with Hamilton having to claw his way through the field.
His team-mate Nico Rosberg trails him by 19 points in the championship and has a golden opportunity to eat into the lead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)