Lewis Hamilton's Indian Grand Prix weekend may have got off to a promising start with the fastest time in opening practice, but the Briton's season returned to its previous miserable form after he was handed a penalty that will affect his starting position on Sunday.

Hamilton usurped world champion Sebastian Vettel from the top of the timesheets right at the end of the opening session at the Buddh International Circuit, but was adjudged to have ignored yellow flags waving to protect the recovery of Pastor Maldonado's stranded Williams, which stopped track-side following an engine failure in the closing minutes.

The McLaren driver was called to see the stewards - again - immediately after the session and, along with Sauber's Sergio Perez, was handed a three-place grid penalty which will take effect when the field lines up after qualifying on Saturday. Hamilton has held something of a season ticket to the officials' office this season - leading to the infamous 'maybe it's because I'm black' jibe after the Monaco Grand Prix - but may have had a case for pleading his innocence on this latest occasion, as the yellows seemed to disappear as he approached the danger zone.

Although he led the way by half a second in practice, McLaren and Red Bull have proven competitive so far this weekend, and the penalty could have a determining effect on Hamilton's result come Sunday.