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Sebastian Vettel (R) of Germany and Red Bull Racing holds off Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes at the start of the European Formula One Grand Prix at the Valencia Street Circuit on July 27, 2010, in Valencia, Spain. (Vladimir Rys/Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Sebastian Vettel (R) of Germany and Red Bull Racing holds off Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes at the start of the European Formula One Grand Prix at the Valencia Street Circuit on July 27, 2010, in Valencia, Spain. (Vladimir Rys/Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Formula One

No reason to follow the rules in F1 Add to ...

Formula One may be the pinnacle when it comes to auto racing, but its officiating continues to make it look like a bush league sport.

Time and time again, F1's governing Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) has dropped the ball when it comes to making and applying rules and Sunday's European Grand Prix only exposed further challenges to the sport's credibility.

That's the only conclusion that can be reached when the FIA allows a driver, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, to get a clear benefit from breaking the rules.

The incident occurred on Lap 9 of the race on the streets of Valencia, Spain, when a terrifying shunt by Red Bull's Mark Webber brought out the safety car. Hamilton was coming down the start-finish straight when the safety car and medical car exited the pitlane.

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Hamilton clearly backed off for a second before hitting the gas and speeding past the two cars despite crossing the line that determines where a racer must pull behind the Mercedes safety vehicles.

Cynics would argue that Hamilton slowed intentionally to ensure that rival Fernando Alonso, whose Ferrari was a couple of metres behind his McLaren, would be caught behind the safety car and pay the price of a lap behind the slow vehicle, but then he mistimed his acceleration and didn't make it to the safety car line in time.

As Hamilton streaked away, Alonso was on his radio immediately reporting the incident and telling his team to get the FIA stewards to investigate. The race restarted on lap 15 and the FIA still had not announced a review. It took another six laps - 11 in total - for the officials to decide the incident merited a second look and then four more laps to impose a drive-through penalty.

By the time Hamilton served his penance on Lap 28, he was far enough ahead of the third placed car to remain second, where he finished the race. Meanwhile, Alonso got caught in the queue behind the safety car and the traffic jam dashed his hopes for a top finish. In the end, the penalty to the driver who followed the rules was more severe than the one served by the driver who broke them.

The Ferrari driver was understandably incensed by outcome, saying the officials "manipulated" the result.

"Hamilton overtook the safety car, something that I had never seen ... we were a metre off each other, and he finished second and I finished ninth," he said.

"When you do the normal thing, which is respecting the rules, you finish ninth, and the one who doesn't respect them finishes second."

Alonso finished the race ninth before a series of speeding penalties to several drivers promoted him to eighth. That decision too was puzzling, as the drivers broke the speed limit during the safety car period to get to the pitlane in an attempt to keep their positions on track and received only five second penalties added to their times at the end of the race.

Again the punishment was preferable to following the rules, as four of the top six received this penalty and did not lose a place in the standings.

Valencia is not the first race this season where an FIA's decision has induced furrowed brows. In the Chinese Grand Prix in April, Hamilton pulled out of his pitbox beside Sebastian Vettel and raced the Red Bull driver side-by-side in the pits in an exceedingly dangerous move that netted only a reprimand.

When Hamilton repeated the move in Montreal two weeks ago, the FIA strangely let it go without any comment or punishment. You would think that a second occurrence would be punished more harshly rather than being ignored. But not when it comes to the FIA.

Danica disappoints again

IndyCar driver turned NASCAR Nationwide Series hopeful Danica Patrick said before Saturday's race in New Hampshire she wanted to give her fans a reason to cheer for her. She failed miserably.

Not only did she finish a dismal 30th in the race - her best result in five Nationwide starts - but Patrick seems to be oblivious to how NASCAR works.

Her day went bad seven laps into the NASCAR Nationwide's New England 200 after Morgan Shepherd bumped Patrick's car and she ended up in the wall. Note that Shepherd, a born again Christian who has "Victory in Jesus" painted on his car, is not exactly a NASCAR bad boy. He is also 68 years old.

But that didn't stop Patrick from bumping Shepherd as they lined up for the restart, something she repeated as they hit pit road following the race.

More troubling was Patrick's reaction to the incident: She asked her crew chief if Shepherd would get a penalty for wrecking her. In NASCAR where frontier justice reigns?

If she wants to be successful in bringing Danicamania to stock cars, it really might be a good idea for her to watch a NASCAR race or two and learn a bit more about the series she wants to join.

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