Lewis Hamilton was instructed to stop on the track after delivering a pole-position lap, but McLaren were unable to avoid falling foul of the stewards (Autosport.com)

Lewis Hamilton will start today’s Spanish Grand Prix from the final place on the grid after he pulled over at the end of Q3 without sufficient fuel to reach the pits and provide a one-litre sample for testing. Hamilton had just banged in a lap which was good for pole position by a clear half-second, ahead of surprise packages Pastor Maldonado and Fernando Alonso.

The idea that McLaren could have failed to ensure that Hamilton was safely stocked for fuel highlights another glaring issue for a pit crew which has struggled under the pressure of in-race pitstops on several occasions this year already, and continues to demonstrate vulnerability in ensuring the absolute accuracy of its work.

The one-litre rule (Rule 6.6.2) has been in Formula for a long time and states that “competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.

“Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

Hamilton’s inevitably unhappy reaction to his 23-place grid penalty finally landed in the early hours of this morning.

“This is such a disappointment,” the Stevenage racer told Autosport.com. “Today’s qualifying session was one of the best I’ve ever driven – the whole car was just rolling so smoothly – it felt fantastic.”

“Later, to hear that I’d been excluded from qualifying, was of course extremely disappointing.”

Vowing to throw everything into a race which will see him start dead last on the grid following the penalty – which came in the form of an exclusion from qualifying – Hamilton promised to ‘race his heart out’ in what will be “an incredibly tough race for McLaren”.

Hamilton did, however, manage to stop short of criticising McLaren’s embattled mechanics. Jenson Button didn’t quite manage that after being eliminated in Q2, sniping “Work that one out” at his team as he complained of new-found understeer in his McLaren.

Pitstop mistakes have already cost McLaren results several times this season. In China, Button was in the hunt for a race win until a botched stop ruined his chances of catching Nico Rosberg; then in Bahrain it was Hamilton’s turn to lose any chance of what would have been a fourth consecutive podium finish, as another faulty wheelnut change cost him over 15 seconds.

With the start just half an hour away, McLaren is not facing a pleasant afternoon at Circuit de Catalunya. Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button starts 10th on the grid, just behind both Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel, and was extremely unhappy with his inability to find a good balance in the car during qualifying. Today’s race, then, promises to be something of an uphill struggle for McLaren – and once again, a major factor is team error.

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