SAO PAULO (AP) – Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from Friday’s qualifying session for the Brazilian Grand Prix after Formula One stewards determined Saturday that the Mercedes team committed a technical infraction, in this represents the latest blow to the British driver’s defense of his top-flight motorsport title.
The stewards’ decision will force Hamilton to start from the back of the grid for Saturday’s sprint race at Interlagos.
Hamilton and Mercedes can appeal the decision.
On a dramatic day leading up to the Brazilian Grand Prix race, Hamilton’s rival, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, was fined after the Dutch driver was caught touching the rear wing of the Mercedes car.
The sprint race will determine the starting positions for Sunday’s race, in which Hamilton will start, at best, in sixth place due to a five-place penalty for changing the engine of the Mercedes car in Sao Paulo.
Verstappen holds a 19-point lead over Hamilton in the championship with four races remaining this season.
Hamilton outscored Verstappen by 0.4 seconds in qualifying on Friday for Saturday’s sprint race at Interlagos, but Mercedes is under investigation because its DRS exceeded the maximum allowable distance when it was opened. The technical infraction generally leads to the exclusion of a session. The decision was announced after Saturday’s practice session, and before the sprint race.
“It was clear to the stewards that the additional deflection was due to additional play, either in the DRS actuator or end pivots, or some combination or other mechanism failure, or incorrect assembly of parts,” he says. the decision. “Therefore, the stewards have no doubt that the failure of the test indicates any intention to exceed the maximum dimension, either by action or by design,” he adds.
The decision also indicates that Mercedes claimed that the rear wing design had passed FIA tests several times during the season and that it had always been approved. Mercedes denied trying to break the rules.
Hamilton’s disqualification places Verstappen on pole for the 24-lap sprint race, which awards three points to the winner. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas climbs to second place, while Red Bull’s Mexican Sergio Pérez will start third. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly will inherit fourth position on the grid.
Moments earlier, Verstappen was fined 50,000 euros ($ 57,200) by the stewards after a video taken from the stands at the Interlagos circuit was released showing the championship leader touching the rear wing of rival Lewis Hamilton’s car. .
The Dutchman can appeal the decision of the stewards, who said his actions caused no damage to his rival’s car.
Video shot by a spectator in Interlagos shows Verstappen apparently inspecting the Mercedes’ wing in parc ferme – a protected area for cars on the track.
“Taking into account that in this case there was no damage, in the opinion of the commissioners – and that there is no precedent for sanctions for this reason – on the one hand; but that it is an infraction of the regulations and that it can have serious consequences, on the other hand, the commissioners determined to take action in this case and order a fine of 50,000 euros ”, the commissioners reported.
“Inside the Parc Ferme, only assigned officials can enter. No operation, revision, adjustment or repair is allowed unless authorized by those officials or by the applicable regulations ”, in accordance with article 2.5.1 of the FIA code.
The stewards said that Verstappen can clearly be seen from the recording touching the car.
“He takes off his gloves and puts his right hand in the slot in the rear wing of his car. Then he moves to car 44 (of Hamilton) and does the same, touching the rear wing in two places, once on each side. of the DRS actuating device, but in the lower rear part of the wing, in the area of the slot hole and never near the actuator or the fixing points of the ends ”, added the commissioners.
“There is no movement of any of the elements of the wing of the car 44 when Verstappen touches the rear of the car and the stewards are satisfied, after seeing all the recordings, the position of his body and the video of the wing, that there was a negligible force when Verstappen touched the aileron.
Saturday’s free practice session, which was not very competitive, ended with Alpine’s driver, Spaniard Fernando Alonso, registering the fastest lap, more than 0.8 seconds ahead of second place Verstappen.
The Brazilian Grand Prix is the third race of the season with a sprint race to determine the starting positions for Sunday’s race. The previous two sprint races were at Silverstone and Monza.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he would be surprised if his driver is punished for checking Hamilton’s car.
“Pilots are very inquisitive animals at times. We’ve seen it many, many times, ”Horner said.