Lewis Hamilton’s quest for the all-time record of Formula 1 wins was put on hold when he was hit with penalties at the Russian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas dominated after the world champion was given a 10-second penalty for doing two illegal practice starts.
Hamilton’s transgressions put him on the verge of a one-race ban because of accumulated licence penalty points.
Bottas’ win meant he cut Hamilton’s championship lead to 44 points.
Hamilton and the Mercedes team made the victory easy for Bottas with their collective failure to know the rules on practice starts before the race, but the Finn might have won anyway.
He was on the better strategy – starting on the medium tyres while Hamilton was on softs after a chaotic qualifying session for the Briton – and was tracking Hamilton in the early laps waiting for the race to play out.
But two five-second penalties, each for practice starts in the wrong place on the reconnaissance laps before the cars go to the grid, took Hamilton out of the equation.
Hamilton asked his engineer Peter Bonnington as he left the pits before the race if he could practice his start from further down the pit lane than the designated area immediately at the exit.
Bonnington confirmed that he could, and Hamilton drove down to the end of the pit lane, just before it rejoins the track.
When told, Hamilton complained: “Where is that in the rules?”
But his actions contravened the requirements to do practice starts in the designated place, not to stop in the fast lane of the pit lane, and not to use constant throttle and speed in the pit exit at this part of the pre-race procedure.
It was the second time in three races that Mercedes have fallen foul of race instructions – after he pitted when the pit lane was closed at the Italian Grand Prix, costing him victory.
Hamilton now has 10 penalty points – and 12 in a calendar year means an automatic race ban. He will now have to be very careful not to transgress again before the first of those points drop off his licence in mid-November.
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