Lewis Hamilton believes he and his Mercedes team are being unfairly targeted because of their Formula One success. The world champion took two penalties at the Russian Grand Prix, where he finished third behind his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who won, and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Hamilton stated during and after the race that the penalties were an attempt to stop him.
Hamilton has won five of the past six world championships and Mercedes have been dominant in the sport since 2014, winning every drivers’ and constructors’ title since then. At Sochi Hamilton was given two five‑second penalties when he undertook a practice start on his way to the grid but outside the designated area.
Both team and driver argued they were not in breach of the regulations. “I’m pretty sure no one has got two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before,” said Hamilton. When asked if he thought he punishment was excessive he said: “Of course it is. But it’s to be expected. They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they.”
The FIA recently also changed the rules on the use of engine modes in qualifying. It was perceived to be an attempt to pare back the Mercedes advantage over the single lap and Hamilton believed it was part of a concerted effort to erode the dominance they enjoy.
“Whenever a team is at the front they are under a lot of scrutiny. Everything we have on our car is being triple-checked, they are changing rules such as the engine regulations and lots of things to try and keep the race exciting, I assume. I don’t know if the rules in terms of what happened today is anything to do with it but naturally that’s how it feels. It feels like you are fighting uphill but that’s OK. It’s not like I haven’t faced adversity before.”
The British driver was initially also given two penalty points by the stewards. If he had earned two more in the next four races he would have received a one-race ban. But the points were subsequently rescinded and replaced by a €25,000 fine for Mercedes on the grounds it was the team that had instructed him not to make his practice starts in the required area.
Hamilton nonetheless appeared convinced his actions were more likely to face sanction. “We will go through the rule book and pick out areas where they can create rules, areas where penalties have never been given before,” he said. “We will try and figure out all the ones they have and try to make sure we cover ourselves. I just have to make sure I give no reason, not even a sniff, to be able to do something.”