At Spa Francorchamps, the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix took place, and it was the best race of the season. But with three laps to go, it started to pelt it down. Suddenly, the racing got even better.

As the drivers approaching the Bus Stop chicane (so called because when the roads were still streets, the chicane was in reality a bus stop), Raikkonen and Hamilton were side by side. Raikkonen was on the inside. Hamilton turned in on the outside, but had no way to make the corner. So, he had to take the escape road, and recover to the circuit. He did so in first place, ahead of Raikkonen, but as stated in the rulebook, he gave the place back to Raikkonen. At the next corner, La Source, Hamilton repassed Raikkonen. Then the drivers went full throttle through Eau Rouge and on to Les Combes. It was still dry there! However, when they turned through the chicane, the rain was evident. Hamilton kept the lead. But a Williams infront of him on the road had spun, causing Hamilton to have to swerve away onto the grass. Raikkonen managed to go between both cars - more by luck than judgement - and ended up retaking the lead. As Hamilton recovered to the track, Raikkonen spun again at Pouhon, giving the lead back to Hamilton. On the way through Stavelot, Hamilton was still leading. At Blanchimont, a 190mph left-hand kink in the dry, Raikkonen spun and ended up in the wall. Out of the race. On the last lap, Hamilton and Massa had to coast around on dry tyres - pitting for intermediates was too big a risk. Hamilton however won the race. Or so it seemed.

After the race, the stewards settled down and thought that the chicane cutting of Hamilton warranted a 25 second penalty - the standard replacement for a drive-through penalty when the race enters the last three laps. This relegated Hamilton to third, and gave Massa the win. It also altered an 8 point lead for Hamilton in the Championship, and it became a 2 point lead. One could accuse the FIA of doing it deliberately to help Ferrari? Or even, to tighten up the Championship.

This encouraged me to cast my mind back.

2006 Italian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso led the Championship by 12 points going into the Grand Prix. In qualifying, Alonso was judged to have "blocked" Felipe Massa on the way down to the Parabolica. Note that this is a long straight section of track. Alonso was however 100 yeards ahead of Massa! While Massa's car may have been unstable through the last corner, Massa received an almighty tow due to slipstreaming down the straight. As a result of this, Alonso was dropped five places on the grid. This gave Michael Schumacher pole, and the race win. Some said, it was very pro-Ferrari. Fortunately, Alonso went on to win the Championship.

1997 Japanese Grand Prix. Jacques Villeneuve led the Championship by 9 points going into the Grand Prix. In practice, he was judged to have ignored yellow flags, i.e. not slowing down as he passed them. He was disqualified from the race, a penalty which did not befit the crime. After a protest, Villeneuve was allowed to race. He finished in fifth place, but was later stripped of the points, and his disqualification confirmed. This allowed Michael Schumacher to win, and take a 1 point lead ahead of Villeneuve. Happily, after all that, Villeneuve won the Championship at Jerez, after Schumacher turned into him deliberately, a move which disqualified him from the Championship.

Then, I did a bit of research.

1958 Portuguese Grand Prix. Mike Hawthorn led the Championship by 5 points going into the Grand Prix. In practice, Hawthorn was judged to have reversed back onto the circuit after an excursion. At the time, that was seen as bad, for some reason. When threatened with a penalty, Hawthorn's nearest rival, Stirling Moss, defended Hawthorn, who drove for the rival Ferrari team. As a result, no penalty was given. In the race, Moss won for 8 points, but Hawthorn scored 6 for second place, plus 1 for the Fastest Lap. In the final standings, Hawthorn beat Moss by just 1 point. If Hawthorn had been disqualified from the race, he would have lost 8 points. However, in 1958, not everybody could enter all of the races, so only the top 6 scores of 11 counted. By losing this score of 7, Hawthorn would have had to include a score of 6. This would have tied him with Moss for the Championship. However, Moss had won 4 races to Hawthorn's 1. That means that if Moss had kept his mouth shut, he would have been World Champion. However, such was the sportsmanship of the man, Hawthorn became Britain's first World Champion.

All three have been penalties that have ended up tightening the Championship. This is a controversial question: Is it a deliberate ploy from the FIA, to make the Championship closer? It would certainly give fewer "dead" Grands Prix later in the season. Justice ended up being done in all of the circumstances above, so let us hope that Hamilton can make it 4/4 in terms of winning the Championship when the FIA does all it can to give it to someone else.

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