Friday was a case of ‘good news, bad news’ for Lewis Hamilton as he paced the first practice session for the Brazilian GP and set the fastest time in qualification but will be hit with a five-spot grid penalty to start Sunday’s race at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace for making an engine change. Hamilton was more than a third of a second quicker than Max Verstappen in Practice 1.
With the new engine, Hamilton paced qualification on Friday to secure the pole for Saturday’s sprint race, but will start no higher than sixth on Sunday regardless of whether he wins the sprint race. Hamilton was 1.8 seconds faster than Verstappen in qualification with Hamilton’s teammate Bottas third and Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez in fourth.
Hamilton’s penalty will be enforced for the race but will not affect Hamilton for Saturday’s third sprint race of the season. The winner of Saturday’s sprint race will be awarded three points. This format has been used twice previously at Silverstone and Monza.
“Today was a really good qualifying session, I’m super happy with it,” Hamilton said at Formula1.com. “We’ve got the penalty but we’ll give it everything we’ve got. It feels crazy, because it’s been a while, so it feels like the first.”
Hamilton’s grid penalty makes it more difficult to close the 19-point gap on Verstappen with four races remaining on the calendar, in a race for which Red Bull was already favored.
This is the second time Hamilton has incurred a penalty for exceeding Formula One’s limit of three engines. He suffered a 10-spot grid penalty in the Turkish GP, a race won by teammate Valtteri Bottas, and Hamilton was only able to climb to fifth before the end of the event.
Verstappen finished second in Turkey and the eight-point differential in that race allowed the Red Bull driver to reclaim the points’ lead.
Hamilton’s engine change comes one week after Bottas was penalized for a third time at the Circuit of the Americas for an engine change.