Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium:Formula One was plunged into new controversy on Sunday when race stewards at the Belgian Grand Prix stunningly stripped Lewis Hamilton of a brilliant victory.
The stewards' decision, which will be seen by many as part of a conspiracy to rig the results to ensure a close fight in the title race, came long after the race when they hit the Briton and his McLaren team with a 25-second penalty.
Their decision came in relation to a move in the final stages of the race when after attempting to pass Ferrari world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who was leading, he was forced off the circuit and cut out the 'Bus Stop' chicane.
Hamilton recognised immediately that he had done this - and gained an advantage by going ahead of the Finn - so he slowed to allow his rival to re-pass him and lead as they completed the lap in teeming rain.
When they began racing again, 23-year-old Hamilton passed Raikkonen and went on to win after the Finn slipped on the rain-drenched surface and crashed out.
Hamilton was relegated to third and the race victory was handed to Ferrari's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa who had struggled to keep pace with the Briton and Raikkonen.
McLaren said they would appeal the decision.
"We have studied the details and put them before the FIA stewards," said a team statement.
"They show that after cutting the chicane Lewis lifted off, he was 6km/h slower than Kimi. After conceding the lead to Kimi, Lewis repositioned his car on the right and beat Kimi on the brakes going into the hairpin."
Critics and paddock observers were swift in their condemnation of a decision that reeked of potential favouritism for Ferrari and seemed entirely unjustified following the most exciting race of the year.
Last year, the sport's ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) was accused of a 'witch-hunt' against McLaren and this spectre was raised again by their stewards action at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
In the immediate post-race euphoria on Sunday, there were no calls for an investigation by any driver or team, but the stewards announced they would be making an official investigation.
The decision to hit Hamilton with a 'drive-through' penalty worth 25 seconds wrecked the value of the race as a spectacle and at the same time devalued Massa's win to nothing more than a hollow sporting victory gifted to him.
It will be seen by most observers as another move by the FIA artificially to keep alive the championship and make it closer by hitting McLaren with a sanction.
At the previous race in Valencia, Ferrari escaped any punishment for taking advantage at a controversial pit-stop when most observers expected Massa, who escaped sanction, to be given a 'drive-through' penalty.
Sunday's shock decision, which demoted Hamilton to third place behind Massa and BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld, left the British driver with just a two-point lead over Massa in the championship with only five races left.
"Kimi pushed me wide. I was a little bit ahead. I was outside on Turn One, I had no room and he basically pushed me so I went on the escape route," said Hamilton before his punishment was announced.
"So I let him past, then got in his tow and he was ducking and diving left and right but I managed to get past him and I was pretty much gone from there."
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Spain came home fourth for Renault ahead of German Sebastian Vettel in a Toro Rosso and sixth-placed Pole Robert Kubica in the second BMW.
In another late development, Timo Glock of Toyota was demoted a place to ninth, with Mark Webber of Red Bull promoted to eighth, following a 25sec penalty for not taking notice of yellow flags.
In the race, Force India's Adrian Sutil finished 13th and Giancarlo Fisichella finished 17th.