LONDON, England (CNN) -- Although Lewis Hamilton will be smarting after being stripped of his hard-fought Belgian Grand Prix win, the real loser is Formula One.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Belgian GP win -- he would later be demoted to third for an illegal move.
A thrilling climax to an absorbing race at Spa-Francorchamps ended in controversy and farce as the sport shot itself in the foot once again.
Hamilton was adjudged by the race stewards to have gained an advantage by cutting the Bus Stop chicane during an abortive pass on race leader Kimi Raikkonen.
The McLaren driver slowed -- by six km/h according to the team's data -- to let the Ferrari back past before diving up the inside at the next hairpin bend to decisively take the lead.
"I knew I had to let him [Raikkonen] past and also the team came over the radio and said 'you have to let him past,' which I did," explained Hamilton.
"The rules say you should let him back past, which I did. I don't think there was anything wrong there."
Instead of seeing his championship lead extended to eight points, Hamilton is now just two ahead of Massa.
Three-time world champion Niki Lauda told the Daily Mail newspaper: "This is the worst judgment in the history of F1. The most perverted judgment I have ever seen.
"It's absolutely unacceptable when three functionaries [the stewards] influence the championship like this."
Regardless of your perspective on the rights and wrongs of the stewards' decision, it does nothing for the reputation of the sport.
F1 is crying out for the wheel-to-wheel action that Sunday's race delivered in spades.
With the title at stake, Hamilton need not have gambled for the win, but he has a racer's instinct. He might think twice next time he is in a similar position, denying fans what they crave.
And the millions worldwide who enjoyed the best race of the season around F1's best track will feel cheated at being told that what they saw was not what the record books will show.
The sport is nothing without its fanbase.
Sunday's post-race penalty is not the the first controversial decision involving McLaren and Ferrari this season.
Hamilton and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen were given five-place grid penalties at the Malaysian Grand Prix after stewards ruled the McLaren pair had impeded other cars during qualifying.
At Monaco, Raikkonen clouted the back of Adrian Sutil in slippery conditions, forcing the Force India into retirement. He escaped without penalty.
Two weeks later, Hamilton rear-ended Raikkonen in the pits in Canada, damaging both cars irreparably; the Briton was given a 10-place grid drop for the next round in France.
At Magny-Cours, a charging Hamilton was deemed to have cut a chicane and gained an advantage, the significant difference from Belgium was that he failed to let the car he passed in the maneuver back through.
He was given a drive-through penalty, which left him out of the points.
And during the European Grand Prix two weeks ago, Massa was adjudged to have been released from a pitstop in dangerous circumstances, but the decision was taken after the race to impose a $10,000 fine.
The rest of the paddock expected a drive-through penalty, consistent with other similar pitstop infringements, to have been applied during the race.
Then to Belgium, where again McLaren have been on the end of what many commentators feel is rough justice.
"The rules do not go into detail about how an advantage can be deemed to have been recovered or reestablished and the stewards are thus left to interpret what they see on the television footage, combined with the representations of the drivers and the teams," wrote The Times' F1 correspondent, Edward Gorman.
"It is perhaps this subjective element that leaves an uneasy feeling and it is not hard to sympathise with Hamilton and McLaren, who believed that they had not breached the racing code."
There is no word yet on when McLaren's appeal will be heard, or even if it is admissable, and the chances of them succeeding in getting Hamilton reinstated as winner seem slim.
Next Sunday is the Italian Grand Prix, the home of Ferrari. The controversy is sure to rumble on to the long straights of Monza.