Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of sealing a fifth Formula One championship at the United States Grand Prix this weekend have been boosted by nearest title rival Sebastian Vettel incurring a three-place grid penalty.
Ferrari driver Vettel was punished for failing to slow down sufficiently under red-flag conditions during Friday’s first practice session in wet weather at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin.
Hamilton has a 67-point advantage in the overall standings having won the previous four races, and a fifth successive victory would be enough to ensure the Mercedes driver claims the title this weekend should Vettel finish third or lower.
And Hamilton looked like a man determined to do his part in that equation when he topped both of Friday’s practice sessions.
BREAKING: Sebastian Vettel has been handed a three-place grid penalty for ‘not slowing sufficiently during a red flag period’ during FP1 #USGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/P9VIhvwy56
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 19, 2018
The sight of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber spinning into the gravel in Friday’s initial session led to the red flags coming out, and Vettel was deemed not to have decelerated enough when the stewards reviewed the incident at the end of the session.
It means that Vettel, who was only 10th fastest in the second session, cannot start Sunday’s race any higher than fourth on the grid.
“I think I saw the red flag, I slowed down, had a look around [to see] where was the car potentially stuck in the wall – if there was one around Turn 9 and 10 – and then slowed down significantly to comply with the rules,” said the German. “They found it took too long.
“I think it’s the first time we had [the target lap] in the wet and in the wet the target is a lot slower, so literally I have to stop to 30 or 40, 50 kilometres per hour, to bring down the delta [time in that sector of the lap], which probably I should do next time.
“In my opinion, it’s not the right thing – if there’s a car behind you, it might run into you, but [it is] more important that you don’t get a penalty.”