British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in action during the second practice session in Austria.
British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in action during the second practice session in Austria. VALDRIN XHEMAJ

Grid penalty hits Hamilton's bid to rein in Vettel

LEWIS Hamilton's hopes of cutting Sebastian Vettel's title lead in the Austrian GP have suffered a setback after the Mercedes driver was hit by a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change on Friday.

Mercedes had to change the unit before it had completed its mandatory six races, with the matter referred to the stewards.

A grid demotion of five places is the automatic sanction when gearboxes are changed out of sequence.

It means that Hamilton, who was fastest in both Friday practice sessions in Austria, will start Sunday's race no higher than sixth.

Mercedes informed the FIA of the impending change on Tuesday.

The world champions have ruled out any possibility that the damage to the unit was done when world championship leader Sebastian Vettel twice hit Hamilton's car in Baku.

Hamilton had been in serene form around the Red Bull Ring on Friday, topping both sessions and out-pacing Vettel by almost two tenths in Practice Two.

Speaking afterwards but before news of his impending grid demotion broke, Hamilton told reporters: "The car felt good. It was a pretty good day. The track felt pretty good from the get go, the grip was amazing from the start. We had a good baseline to start with and we kept chipping away at it.

"We are going to work hard tonight to try and find some more performance. I got the car to the limit and we'll now look at the weaknesses to improve. We generally do improve Friday to Saturday."

Hamilton currently trails Vettel by 14 points in the title race approaching the halfway stage of the season.

News Corp Australia


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