SOCHI, Russia, Sept 27 – Lewis Hamilton accused the stewards at Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix of “trying to stop me” after he was handed two five-second penalties that wrecked his hopes of a record-equalling 91st victory.
The runaway series leader and six-time champion said the stewards’ penalties, given to him for a minor infringement when he performed two pre-race practice starts, were excessive.
“They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they? But, that’s ok. I just need to keep my head down and stay focussed and we’ll see what happens.”
During the race, on team radio, Hamilton had described the penalties as ridiculous, a term he repeated afterwards and during an interview with Sky Sports.
“I’m pretty sure no-one has got two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before,” he said.
“I didn’t put anyone in danger. I’ve done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it…but it is what it is.”
Hamilton was deemed to have broken the rules set down in the Race Director’s pre-race instructions when he performed two practice starts in the wrong place in the pit-lane exit road.
He started the race from his record 96th pole position and led the early laps before having to serve his penalty during his pit stop.
Hamilton was aiming to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 career victories.
He finished third, missing out on equalling Schumacher’s record and his lead ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was cut from 55 points to 44.
– ‘Agree to disagree’ –
Hamilton was also given two penalty points on his racing super licence, leaving him on 10 points in 12 months, just two away from an automatic one-race ban.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said: “I’m not happy with the penalty because it’s far-fetched. I will always respect the stewards in their job, but on that one, we just agree to disagree,” said Wolff.
He explained that Hamilton received one five-second penalty for irregular practice starts and one for not driving at a constant speed on his reconnaissance lap.
Wolff said the Race Director Michael Masi’s notes did not specify where practice starts should be conducted and added that Hamilton had gained no advantage.
Both alleged infringements of Masi’s rulings happened before the race.
“Things are not always black and white and there’s room for interpretation,” said Wolff, of the decisions.
“There are rules that can be interpreted in two ways. There is common sense. There is the fact that then an in-race penalty was given, actually two in-race penalties were given, for an infringement that happened before the race.
“And there was an argument that he gained an advantage by making the starts there, but I think it was not an advantage because there was no grip, so much less grip than you would have on your starting position. It is what it is at the end of the day and, obviously, we’re all emotional about that.”
Wolff added that he did not wish to attribute any blame.
“It’s not a team error. It’s not a Lewis error. And I wouldn’t want to point at anybody — and I’ve never done that…. In the end, you have to take it on the chin and move on.”
Hamilton needed to win to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 Grand Prix wins, but he finished third behind triumphant Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.