Lewis Hamilton got a gift from F1 officials when Sebastian Vettel was penalized three places on the starting grid for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix for not slowing down enough for a red flag during Friday’s morning practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Vettel insists he abided by the rules.
“I think I slowed down,” the Ferrari driver said. “I had a good look around at what was going on. The rules are clear so we know.
“They [the stewards] were very specific, saying I took 27.7 seconds to slow down. I saw the red flag, I slowed down, I had a look around where the car was potentially stuck in the wall or if there was one around Turn 9 or 10.
“Then I slowed down significantly to comply with the rules. … They found it too long. I think it was straightforward.
“On top of it there might have been an issue with the timing, the system. I don’t know. … I think it’s wrong.”
Vettel also said he was worried that “if there is a car right behind you, it might run into you. But it is more important you don’t get a penalty.”
Hamilton recorded the fastest lap in the morning session in his Mercedes. Vettel, meanwhile, is essentially in a win-or-else situation if he hopes to prevent Hamilton from clinching the 2018 F1 championship.
Being penalized makes Vettel’s chances all the more difficult. Short of winning Sunday, the only other way Vettel can keep Hamilton from winning his fifth F1 crown is if he finishes within seven points of Hamilton.
Hamilton currently leads Vettel by 67 points. If Hamilton doesn’t clinch the title this weekend, it’ll be on to Mexico City next weekend for another chance at sealing the championship deal.
Hamilton’s previous championships have come in three of the last four seasons (2014, 2015 and 2017), as well as his first in 2008.
Friday’s second practice was washed out, for all intents and purposes. Hamilton logged just eight minutes and couldn’t go faster than he did in the soggy conditions earlier in the morning, while Vettel managed just 12 minutes on-track in the second session.
Saturday’s forecast calls for more rain, but Sunday’s race day outlook calls for dry conditions.