It appears that the robust defence of Lewis Hamilton against Vitaly Petrov in yesterdays Malaysian Grand Prix has come under some scrutiny. What follows is a brief analysis of the incident, taking into account sporting regulations as put forth by the FIA, witness statements and experience of racing competitively.
On the entry of Turn 15, Vitaly Petrov ran wide which allowed Lewis Hamilton to take the inside line and overtake the Renault driver. Owing to the fact that Petrov was then able to take a tighter line on the exit of the corner, he had a faster exit and therefore gained a slipstream from the rear of the Mclaren. What followed were a succession of darts from left to right by Lewis Hamilton for the duration of the pit straight until Turn 1, at which point Petrov attempted a manoeuvre on the outside line which ultimately did not succeed, as Hamilton kept the inside line.
These are the facts of a relatively minor occurrence during the Malaysian Grand Prix. Let us begin from the exit of Turn 15; Petrov exited marginally faster and was therefore in a prime position to take the tow from Hamilton's Mclaren. Note that at this point, Petrov did not attempt an overtaking manoeuvre.
This incident therefore allows Article 16.2(a) of the FIA Sporting Regulations to take effect, which states "It shall be at the discretion of the race stewards to decide, upon a report or request by the race director, if a driver or drivers involved in an incident shall be penalised". This panel would have been made up by Charlie Whiting (race director) and a group of race stewards which contained one Johnny Herbert, ex-Jaguar, Stewart and Benetton driver and Grand Prix winner.
These stewards would have then referred to the criteria set forth in Article 16.1 which determine whether or not a driver or drivers should be penalised for an incident that occurs on the circuit. The only two criteria that could have been depended on in this case are thus: "Illegitimately prevented a legitimate overtaking manoeuvre by a driver", or "Illegitimately impeded another driver during overtaking".
For the duration of the Start/Finish straight, there was no attempt by Vitaly Petrov to overtake Lewis Hamilton. This fact makes the aforementioned penalty criteria obsolete. There was ample opportunity for Petrov to hold his line whilst going down the straight, at which point Hamilton's weaving would become illegal and he would have been penalised for it, and quite rightly so.
As Hamilton and Petrov entered the braking zone for Turn 1, the Mclaren driver held and stayed on the inside line (and ceased weaving in front of Petrov), as is widely held to be the unwritten agreement regarding weaving in the braking zone (a la Felipe Massa at Turn 12 in Melbourne). As previously mentioned, Petrov held the outside line and attempted to outbrake Hamilton as to gain the inside line for the following Turn 2. This attempt didn't materialise in a position gained for Petrov, and both continued.
The mini furore that has erupted across forums, newspapers and websites is completely unjustified, and is symptomatic of the divide between those who have raced (where the behaviour of most cadet karters would leave most race fans aghast), and those who have not. This was not a similar example of Damon Hill weaving across Michael Schumacher's path at Montreal in 1998. The only censure that arrived Hamilton's way came from Renault, who refused to take matters further after the original warning given by the race stewards.
This warning was meted out by a panel which included an experienced racing driver. No more is the excuse that the FIA race stewards are not competent enough to make decisions such as these. There has been no major fallout from drivers (indeed, Petrov is quoted as having enjoyed the numerous on-track battles he had) nor commentators on the matter, which should be a signal that what Hamilton did (whilst being on the edge of what is allowed as defined by the sporting regulations) was not overly dangerous and should not be met with the pretension that it has.