Hamilton record bid hit by Sochi penalties

Sochi (Russia) (AFP) –


Lewis Hamilton’s hope of claiming a record-equalling 91st Formula One victory was hit by two five-second penalties for making irregular pre-race practice starts at Sunday's Russian Grand Prix.

The six-time champion led the race from his record 96th pole position before two crashes on the opening lap brought out the Safety Car -- while the race stewards investigated two practice starts in the pit-lane exit.

He was informed of his penalties after the action resumed on lap six.

“What happened? What happened?” he responded. “Those starts, going to the grid, we got five seconds for each. Out of position.”

“Where is that in the rule book?” said a disgruntled Hamilton, knowing that in an anticipated tight race, he was unlikely to recover the time lost serving the 10 seconds penalty.

Hamilton also faced the unconfirmed possibility that he could be given more penalty points on his racing licence and, with eight already, he may face a race ban.

The Briton was running on unfavourable soft compound tyres, following a troubled and incident-hit qualifying session on Saturday, and rejected Mercedes’ call for an early pit-stop, preferring instead to stay out in a bid to open up a substantial lead ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

By lap 16 of 53, he was leading by 2.5 seconds with Max Verstappen third for Red Bull, five seconds adrift.

A pit stop at the Sochi Autodrom’s Olympic Park circuit costs a driver around 25 second penalties.

Most teams are on one-stop race strategies.

Hamilton finally pitted on lap 17 to take hard tyres and his 10-second penalty, re-joining in 11th place, ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, behind old rival four-time champion Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.

"This is ridiculous man,” said Hamilton as he began the chase and Bottas, as leader, set a race fastest lap.