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Hamilton's hopes hit by five-place grid penalty

Saturday, July 08, 2017

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AFP) — Lewis Hamilton's hopes of reducing Sebastian Vettel's 14-point lead in this year's drivers' world championship suffered a setback late yesterday when he was handed a five-place grid penalty for this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix.

The penalty is the regulation mandatory punishment for an unscheduled gearbox change, in this case before Hamilton's unit had completed six races, his Mercedes team confirmed.

The matter was referred to the race stewards at the Red Bull Ring on Friday evening after the three-time world champion Briton had dominated both opening practice sessions.

In a statement, the sport's ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) said: “The above driver (Hamilton) did finish the last race in Baku and this gearbox change was before the six consecutive events expired.

“As this is not in compliance with Article 23.5a of the 2017 Formula One Sporting Regulations, I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.

“The team informed the technical delegate about the gearbox change on Tuesday, 4th July, 2017, at 11:29 hours.'”

The mandatory sanction is a five-place penalty, which means that even if Hamilton is fastest again in Saturday's qualifying he cannot start Sunday's race higher than sixth on the grid.

Mercedes said they had ruled out the possibility that the damage to Hamilton's car was done when four-time champion German Vettel of Ferrari twice drove into him during last month's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton's penalty is the latest unfortunate setback to his mounting championship challenge and follows his bad luck in Baku where, following Vettel's 'road rage' attack, his head-rest worked loose and cost him a near-certain victory.

It is sure to be a source of further aggravation, too, in a week when Vettel, on his 30th birthday onday, escaped further punishment for his reckless behaviour in Baku. He was given a 10-seconds stop-go penalty during the race, but that was rendered ineffective - in terms of the championship scrap with Hamilton - by the Englishman's head-rest problems.

Before learning of his latest misfortune, Hamilton told reporters how he was approaching the Austrian race.

Vettel was nearly two-tenths down in second, but will harbour a strong belief that he can claim pole and end Mercedes' three-year dominance on the Austrian track in the Styrian

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