Formula One: Hulkenberg steers Renault to cash boost, controversy

Nico Hulkenberg of Renault Sport F1 in the Drivers Press Conference ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix on Oct 19, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

ABU DHABI (AFP) - Nico Hulkenberg may not have won Sunday's season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but his pragmatic drive for sixth place secured increased championship prize money and a controversial post-race row.

The German driver ran off circuit and gained an advantage when he passed Sergio Perez's Force India early in the race - a move that resulted in a stewards' investigation.

Most observers expected him to be forced to hand his place back to Perez but instead, he was handed a five-second penalty and went on to finish sixth.

It was a result that was good enough for his Renault team to leapfrog Toro Rosso and take sixth place in the constructors' championship.

That success, estimated by paddock experts to be worth at least an additional €7.2 million (S$11.5 million), left Force India boss Otmar Szafneuer outraged.

He said: "It makes a mockery of the sport to have it so inconsistent.

"Hulkenberg cuts a corner, the FIA (International Automobile Federation) don't do anything about it and guess what? They gain a place in the constructors' championship, which means more money and more competitiveness next year."

Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul said: "There was a penalty decided and we served the penalty..."

Hulkenberg said he felt the penalty was fair. "It's always different car, different perspective. I saw he was locking up and running wide. I had nowhere to go... I think the five seconds was fair."

The two drivers were team-mates at Force India last year.

Renault had started the race with a four-point deficit to Toro Rosso, but finished it in front by four.

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