• Hamilton can now qualify only fourth at the highest
• ‘I accept whatever penalty I get,’ says McLaren driver
Lewis Hamilton delivered his season in a microcosm in the opening practice session at the new Buddh International Circuit. He stormed round to become the first pacesetter in Formula One in India but was then given a three-place grid penalty for setting his time while yellow flags were fluttering.
Whatever happens in qualifying on Saturday Hamilton cannot start Sunday’s race higher than fourth place. The season will not end soon enough for him. The infringement was the latest in a championship full of mishaps for the McLaren driver.
Hamilton went top as the chequered flag fell on the session, Ayrton Senna-like, but his joy was short lived. The yellow flags were out for Pastor Maldonado’s Williams, which had suffered engine failure. Hamilton was penalised, according to the FIA, for “ignoring double-waved yellow flags at Turn 16 while marshals were in close proximity to the track”. One of the stewards who reached the decision was the British former driver Johnny Herbert.
Hamilton’s hopes of becoming the first winner of the Indian Grand Prix are now slim. After Hamilton came the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, followed by Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button. The Mercedes pair of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were fifth and sixth.
In the second practice run it was Felipe Massa who came top as the dust settled on the day. In a promising session for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso was third, the red cars split by Vettel. Hamilton was fourth, followed by Webber and Button.
“Same old, same old. I engaged the DRS [drag reduction system] when there were yellow flags and you are not allowed to,” Hamilton said. “It’s not good for the weekend. It doesn’t look like we’re the quickest, so wherever we qualify, three places further back is going to make it tough.
“But it’s not impossible, the race is very long, there are two DRS zones, so overtaking is possible but we will have to wait and see just how quick we are. It’s Friday practice. This is a day where you just practise with tomorrow the day where you have to knuckle down.
“I’ve already put the team on the back foot with that penalty. I would love to see how many penalties I’ve had throughout the year.” When he was told six he replied: “Is that all? It feels like a lot more than that. It’s much more when you are further back on the grid. I’m a bit frustrated with myself. It’s my fault – as usual. So I just have to do whatever I can from wherever I qualify tomorrow.
“It was looking good for us at one stage to be able to qualify on pole but I’ve less hopes for that now. Tomorrow could be a different day, we might turn up and things might change with the car and I might be back up there.”
When told that he was very self-critical he replied: “Well, I’ve no one else to blame. There’s only me driving.”
Hamilton’s charge sheet
April 10 Malaysian Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso runs into the back of Hamilton as he makes a hash of an overtaking manoeuvre. Further salt is rubbed into Hamilton’s wounds as he is hit with a retrospective drive-through penalty for making more than one change of direction to defend a position. The 20 additional seconds drop him from seventh to eighth.
May 29 Monaco Grand Prix: Hamilton is given two drive-through penalties relating to separate incidents with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado in his Williams, the second served retrospectively, but in this instance his finishing position of sixth is unaltered. Hamilton later describes his latest visit to see the stewards as “an absolute frickin’ joke”, and jokingly suggests that “maybe it’s because I’m black” that he is being picked on. He later apologises to the stewards for the remark and also via letter to the FIA president, Jean Todt.
June 12 Canadian Grand Prix: In wet conditions and following an initial safety car period, Hamilton collides with Mark Webber, so sending the Australian into a spin, an incident into which the stewards launch an investigation. Three laps later Hamilton commits the cardinal sin of motor-racing by crashing into his team-mate Jenson Button, then hitting a wall and retiring.
July 31 Hungarian Grand Prix: Leading the race on lap 47, the changeable conditions force Hamilton into a spin, only to straighten his car into oncoming traffic, almost colliding with Force India’s Paul di Resta. He receives another drive-through penalty, and eventually finishes the race fourth. Hamilton later apologises to Di Resta.
August 27 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton is involved in another incident with Maldonado, initially banging wheels with the Venezuelan as they emerge out of the Bus Stop chicane, completing a flying lap just in time to make it into the top 10. As retaliation, Maldonado cuts across Hamilton as they head up towards Eau Rouge, ripping the right-front endplate off Hamilton’s front wing. Hamilton is reprimanded, while Maldonado is given a five-place grid penalty.
August 28 Belgian Grand Prix: Hamilton heads into Les Combes at the end of the Kemmel straight and takes the line of Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi who is on his outside to his left. The front-right tyre of Kobayashi’s car hits the rear-left of Hamilton’s McLaren, sending him crashing heavily into a barrier and into retirement. After reviewing the incident, Hamilton later issues an apology on Twitter, claiming the accident was “100%” his fault.
September 25 Singapore Grand Prix: After a minor brush with Massa in qualifying the Brazilian claims Hamilton “didn’t use his mind again”. Remarkably, the duo collide again on lap 12 in the race, with Hamilton losing the front left of his front wing as he runs into the right-rear of the Ferrari causing a puncture. Unsurprisingly he receives another drive-through penalty, his fifth of the year.
October 28 Indian Grand Prix: Hamilton is hit with a three-place grid drop after ignoring double waved yellow flags – that implore a driver to slow down – at the end of the first practice session at the Buddh International Circuit. The flags came at a time when marshals were working close to the track in recovering Maldonado’s Williams following a spin.
Hamilton’s sporting woes have been matched by personal issues, having confirmed this week he had broken up with his long-time girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger of the pop group Pussycat Dolls.
“I’ve had some issues in racing but then in my personal life as well,” Hamilton told the BBC. “I don’t think it has been a great year, I am looking forward to next year, that is for sure.
“I am so blessed in life. I have a great job and a fantastic family, it is just a mixture of things. I want to be winning and that is what I am working towards. I won’t give up and will keep pushing.”