In most sports, athletes can be tested for drugs at any time, with no warning. Their substances in their bodies can be scrutinised at any time and must adhere to certain standards. The cost for missing a drugs test is severe, with penalties such as that handed out to Rio Ferdinand not uncommon.
In F1, though, the risk of doping is much less, and in fact the real risk lies with the cars, not the drivers. Article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations states:
"Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the event".
This regulation exists to stop teams using dodgy fuel, in effect doping. I know relatively very little about this side of the sport, but I imagine that a large advantage could be gained from using different fuel from other teams. Have the FIA given Lewis Hamilton such a large penalty due to the risk they feel that they deliberately tried to avoid having their fuel tested?
Is this why the penalty is so large?
It seems fair that Lewis should be penalised for not having the fuel tested. Maybe having his Q3 times eliminated and starting 10th would be fair, if still harsh. Being excluded from qualifying and starting from the back of the grid just seems overly harsh. There must be a reason for such a punishment?
If Lewis had qualified on pole by a tenth, or had been putting in super-fast times like that all weekend, maybe the stewards would have penalised Lewis by dropping a few places. However, the incredible speed with which he completed that lap, and then the lack of fuel sample at the end, may well have raised suspicions that something untoward has occurred.
If it was Lewis that had missed a drugs test, rather than the car, would we feel that the punishment was too harsh? When Ferdinand missed his test, everyone immediately jumped to conclusions and shouted "foul play". While I'm not accusing Mclaren of doing anything wrong - I'm a massive Hamilton fanboy who presumes the guy can pull out a ridiculous time like that whenever he wants - it's important to remember that the stewards have to protect against teams deliberately abusing the rules and avoiding scrutinisation.
Let's hope Hamilton can make up some places tomorrow and undo the mistake his team have made.