SOCHI, Russia-Lewis Hamilton accused Formula 1 bosses of “trying to stop” him after he was handed two five-second penalties at Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix to wreck his hopes of a record-equaling 91st victory.

The runaway championship leader and six-time world champion said the stewards’ penalties, imposed for a minor infringement when he performed two pre-race practice starts, were excessive.

“They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they? But, that’s OK. I just need to keep my head down and stay focused and we’ll see what happens.”

During the race, on team radio, Hamilton had described the penalties as ridiculous, a term he repeated afterwards and during an interview with Sky Sports.

“I’m pretty sure no one has got two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before,” he said.

“I didn’t put anyone in danger. I’ve done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it… but it is what it is.”

Hamilton was deemed to have broken the rules set down in the race director’s pre-race instructions when he performed two practice starts in the wrong place in the pit-lane exit road.

He started the race from his record 96th pole position and led the early laps before having to serve his penalty during his pit stop.

Hamilton was bidding to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 grand prix wins, but he finished third behind triumphant Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton’s championship lead over Bottas was cut from 55 points to 44.

Hamilton was also given two penalty points on his racing super licence, which had left him just two away from a one-race ban.

However, the stewards later canceled these penalty points and instead fined Mercedes 25,000 euros ($29,000). In a statement, the sport’s ruling body, the FIA, said they had been told that the team had instructed Hamilton to make his practice start in the wrong place.

‘Agree to disagree’

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said: “I’m not happy with the penalty because it’s far-fetched. I will always respect the stewards in their job, but on that one, we just agree to disagree,” said Wolff.

He explained that Hamilton received one five-second penalty for irregular practice starts and one for not driving at a constant speed on his reconnaissance lap.

Wolff said race director Michael Masi’s notes did not specify where practice starts should be conducted and added that Hamilton had gained no advantage. Both alleged infringements of Masi’s rulings happened before the race.

“Things are not always black and white and there’s room for interpretation,” said Wolff of the decisions.

“There are rules that can be interpreted in two ways. There is common sense. There is the fact that then an in-race penalty was given, actually two in-race penalties were given, for an infringement that happened before the race.

“And there was an argument that he gained an advantage by making the starts there, but I think it was not an advantage because there was no grip, so much less grip than you would have on your starting position. It is what it is at the end of the day and, obviously, we’re all emotional about that.”

Wolff added that he did not wish to attribute any blame.

“It’s not a team error. It’s not a Lewis error. And I wouldn’t want to point at anybody, and I’ve never done that. In the end, you have to take it on the chin and move on.”

Agence France-Presse

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