ABU DHABI -- Force India has accused Renault's Nico Hulkenberg of a "deliberate ploy" to bend the Formula One rulebook after he escaped a penalty for a race-altering incident on the opening lap with Sergio Perez.
Hulkenberg was pushed across the run-off area at Turn 11 to pass Perez as they battled for seventh early in the race. Despite complaints by Perez that he unfairly gained an advantage, Hulkenberg refused to give back the position as he claimed the Force India driver had forced him wide -- something replays later suggested was a bold claim given the positioning of both cars.
Having held position, Hulkenberg was given a five-second penalty which he served at his next pit-stop, although by refusing to budge he had been able to make up much of that time in clear air ahead of Perez. Renault had been locked in a tight -- and financially significant -- championship battle with Toro Rosso and Force India were left in no doubt the moment was premeditated.
When asked if he was surprised by the fact Hulkenberg refused to concede the position, technical director Andy Green said: "No. It was a deliberate ploy by him.
"He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew to overtake he had to cut the chicane because there was no way he was going to get past down the straights. He knew that if he got ahead he would only get a five-second penalty. For me the regulation is just completely flawed. The incentive now is to cut the corner, get ahead of the guy, and then go off into the distance and then serve your penalty. It's just wrong."
Green believes the current rules reward a driver for breaking the rules because the penalty is not great enough.
"You would expect a driver to give it back but then when they start to play games like that then we expect the stewards to know what's going on and take action to penalise the driver. There was no penalising of the driver for doing it. He was rewarded for doing it and the incentive is to do it again. It's just rubbish."
The result helped Hulkenberg consolidate what became sixth position after Daniel Ricciardo's retirement, as he was able to stay ahead of Perez after his pit-stop, helping Renault snatch sixth position from Toro Rosso -- a positional gain worth an estimated £6-7 million in prize money. Force India COO Otmar Szafnauer, who oversees the team's race operation, was equally critical of the penalty handed to Hulkenberg.
"Hulkenberg should have given the place back, just like he did when he did the same thing to [Romain] Grosjean [later in the race]," he said.
"It makes a mockery of this sport to have it so inconsistent. It's a track position race here, we knew they [Renault] were a bit quicker than us at the beginning on the ultrasoft, which is why we needed to get ahead and stay ahead.
"Hulkenberg cuts a corner, the FIA didn't do anything about it, and guess what? They gain a position in the constructors' championship, which means more money and more competitiveness next year. I don't know what [the stewards] were thinking, it's really difficult when it's all over the place, to understand. The inconsistency is not great."
Hulkenberg had a different opinion, of course, and pointed to the speeds the two cars were travelling at when he went across the run-off area to support his argument.
"It's always different car, different perspective," the Renault driver said. "From where I was sitting, I could see he was locking up and running wide. I had the car stopped and was ready to make the corner but he was running wide, so I had no place to go.
"It's not that easy to say I can stop that much more and tuck in behind him. I had nowhere to go, and that is also a bit forcing another guy off the track, in my opinion. In the circumstances, I think the five-second time penalty was fair and reasonable."