Formula 1 bosses say they rescinded the penalty points they had given to Lewis Hamilton for breaching practice-start rules at the Russian Grand Prix after deeming them “inappropriate”.

On top of a 10-second penalty for the violation, Hamilton was originally also handed two penalty points on his F1 licence which moved him to within two of triggering an automatic one-race ban.

But in a rare U-turn, the FIA decided to overturn its initial verdict – which was issued during Sunday’s race – to give Hamilton penalty points after meeting with the Briton and Mercedes representatives following the race.

Hamilton now sits on eight points, four away from incurring a race ban. Further points will not be removed from Hamilton’s tally until after the Turkish Grand Prix in four races’ time.

The FIA normally only change their decisions after a team lodges an appeal, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff revealed after the race that the reigning world champion squad was not going to formally protest the “far-fetched” penalties, adding the team would “take it on the chin and move on”.

So why did the FIA decide to cancel the penalty points four hours later and instead fine Mercedes €25,000?

“The stewards after the race heard from the team and the driver of Car 44,” F1 race director Michael Masi explained.

“Lewis and Mercedes spoke to the stewards, at which point it was actually a team instruction to Lewis of where he could perform those practice starts.

“On that basis the stewards have rescinded the penalty points as they thought it was inappropriate and as a result have fined the team 25,000 Euros for that instruction.

“Lewis followed his team instruction and yes it was him driving the car, however, a contributing factor was that his team instructed him to do so at that point and therefore they saw it fit to revise their decision accordingly.”

There was some confusion as to why Hamilton was noted for two infringements and subsequently received two separate five-second time penalties.

Hamilton had twice made practice starts during the reconnaissance laps to the grid at the very end of the pitlane where cars rejoin the track after the Turn 1 kink.

The reigning six-times world champion broke the regulations on two counts for first not taking the starts in the usual place at the end of the garages, and for failing to maintain a constant speed through the pit exit road.

Hamilton had originally prepared to conduct a practice start in the permitted location before asking his team, “there’s all rubber here, can I go further out?”

His race engineer Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington replied: “Affirm.” Hamilton immediately followed that reply up with a further query: “To the end of the pit wall?” with Bonnington answering: “Yeah copy. Leave enough room for cars to pass.”

“Actually [there] wasn’t a second penalty,” Masi replied when asked about the decision to hand out two five-second time penalties. “There was a breach of two elements of the regulations that were highlighted.

“One being the article within the race director’s event notes, and the second being article 36.1 of the sporting regulations that states you must keep a constant speed through the pit exit road, the pit exit road being defined by being where the red lights are at pit exit through to the safety car line.”

In the direct aftermath of his penalties, which he labelled as “ridiculous”, Hamilton went as far as to claim that the F1 stewards were purposely trying to stop him from winning.

Even Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who split the Mercedes duo in second, agreed with Hamilton that the penalty decision was “a bit harsh”.

Asked if Hamilton felt the stewards’ penalty was excessive, Hamilton replied: “Of course it is. But it’s to be expected.

“They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they? But it’s OK. I just need to keep my head down and stay focused, and we’ll see what happens.”



In the later FIA drivers’ press conference for the top three finishers in Russia, Hamilton added: "I don't necessarily think it's for me.

"Whenever a team is at the front, they are under a lot of scrutiny, everything we have on our car is being triple checked and triple checked, they are changing rules, such as the engine regs, lots of things to keep the racing exciting, I assume.

"I don't know if the rules in terms of what happened today was anything to do with it, but naturally that's how it feels. It feels we're fighting uphill. But that's OK. It's not like I haven't faced adversity before."

While Masi did not respond directly to Hamilton’s comments, he said he was more than happy to discuss any concerns the Mercedes driver might have.

“If Lewis wants to raise something, as I have said to him before and all the other drivers numerous times, the door is always open,” he explained. “I am more than happy to discuss anything.

"But from an FIA perspective, we are there as a sporting regulator to administer the regulations.

"We have the stewards as an independent judiciary and therefore there was an infringement and it doesn't matter if it was Lewis Hamilton or any one of the other 19 drivers, they will consider it on its merits and adjudicate equitably and fairly in the circumstances."

Bottas’ second win of the season, coupled with third place for Hamilton, means his championship advantage cut to 44 points – still the equivalent of nearly two race wins – with seven rounds remaining.

While Hamilton was unable to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 race weekends on a unusually error-strewn weekend, he will ultimately be relieved to leave Sochi with a huge lead and breathing space from a potential weekend sitting on the bench.

 

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