McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton will be given a five-place grid penalty after Sunday’s qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix for changing his gearbox, the FIA confirmed on Saturday.
The unauthorised gearbox change came in the third free practice session in which the 2008 world champion hardly participated after only completing three laps none of which were timed after torrential rain washed out qualifying.
The latest incident is another blow for Hamilton’s title bid after the British driver failed to finish in three of the last four races, two of them following damage from botched overtaking manoeuvres.
The 25-year-old has slid to third in the championship, 20 points behind pace-setter Mark Webber of Australia. Earlier, a drenched track for the morning practice session saw just two drivers record a lap time in the 60-minute session.
Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel, who topped both of Friday’s practice sessions in the dry, backed the move. “I know it is not an easy decision to take, but in those conditions we have no control of our cars,” Vettel said.
“I think it was the right decision. There was no chance for us — we would just be passengers, rather than controlling, and being able to push to our limits and to the limits of the car.”