Lewis Hamilton’s world championship hopes suffered a fresh blow Saturday when he was disqualified from qualifying and relegated to the back of the grid for the Brazil Grand Prix sprint race.
The seven-time champion was penalised after his Mercedes’ DRS system (the flap mounted on the rear wing of the car which opens to gain top speed) was judged to have exceeded allowed limits.
Hamilton, who trails Max Verstappen by 19 points in the title race, had already been hit with a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s grand prix after the engine was changed on his Mercedes.
Meanwhile, Verstappen, who will now start the sprint from the front, was fined 50,000 euros ($57.2 million) for touching the Mercedes of Hamilton but was not handed a grid penalty.
Red Bull driver Verstappen was spotted examining Hamilton’s car in parc ferme after qualifying on Friday.
Hamilton had been the fastest driver in the session and had been due to start Saturday’s sprint race from the front row with Verstappen on his shoulder.
The 24-lap sprint race will decide the starting order for Sunday’s race at the Interlagos circuit.
“It is clear to the stewards that it has become a habit of the drivers to touch cars after qualifying and the races,” said a statement from the stewards.
“This was also the explanation of Verstappen, that it was simply habit to touch this area of the car which has been a point of speculation in recent races between both teams.
“This general tendency has been seen as mostly harmless and so has not been uniformly policed. Nevertheless, it is a breach of the parc ferme regulation and has significant potential to cause harm.”
Following the disqualification of Hamilton, his teammate Valtteri Bottas was promoted to the front row alongside Verstappen.
Sergio Perez, in the second Red Bull, and Pierre Gasly in an AlphaTauri, will be on the second row.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo plus the Alpine cars of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon make up the top 10.
The Brazil Grand Prix, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, is the third race this season to stage a Saturday sprint race after Britain and Italy.
As well as pole position for Sunday’s race, three points are awarded to the winner which may prove crucial in a tight title race.
After this weekend’s race, three more remain in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.