Austin: Sebastian Vettel complained that Formula One’s red flag rules are wrong and need more common sense applied after he was handed a three-place grid penalty on Friday.
The penalty, for speeding while red flags were waved, was consistent with other drivers’ penalties this year, but left Vettel frustrated and dented his hopes of stopping Lewis Hamilton clinching his fifth world title this weekend. Similar penalties were applied to Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo earlier this season.
The Ferrari ace was reported to the stewards for not slowing sufficiently when the rain-hit opening practice was red-flagged after Charles Leclerc had brought gravel back on the circuit following a spin.
Vettel said he slowed enough to respect the situation, adding that he felt unhappy at the use of precise delta times.
“There should be common sense with the rules that we have,” he said. “Lining out 27.7 seconds precisely, as not complying with the rules, I think is wrong.
“I think I slowed down, I had a good look around at what was going on. The rules are clear — so we know.
“It is the first time we had this in the wet, where the target is a lot slower so, literally, you have to stop to 40-50 kph to bring down the delta, which probably I should do next time.
“But, in my opinion, that is not the right thing. If there is a car right behind you, it might run into you… But it is more important you don’t get a penalty.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes posted the fastest lap of Friday’s soggy practice sessions at the US Grand Prix. Hamilton drove around the Circuit of the Americas in 1 minute, 47.502 seconds in the morning, then sat out most of the afternoon session when rain again soaked the track.
Vettel added that he was disappointed with his and Ferrari’s performance on a day when Hamilton and Mercedes eased to the fastest times in both wet sessions.
“We had enough laps and it is clear that we were not competitive,” he said. “We are missing quite a big chunk of performance.”
There was much support for Vettel in the paddock with Red Bull boss Christian Horner leading criticism of the red flag rule.
“It is a rubbish rule, but they have got to have consistency because otherwise it makes a little bit of a farce of all the regulations if you have a penalty for one race, but not at another,” he said.
“But it is not a good regulation. If a driver commits a crime like that, speeding under a red flag, the biggest thing that will hurt the driver is fining him.
“Give him a penalty, a wrap on the knuckles, a fine or something and give the money to charity. To give him a three-place penalty... It affects the race, affects qualifying and it is not a good penalty.”
If Hamilton wins on Sunday, Vettel must finish second to push the championship another week to Mexico City. Any result that leaves Vettel eight or more points behind his rival and Hamilton will win the title. Hamilton is gunning for his sixth win in seven years at the Texas track and his 10th of the season.
The rain that swamped the track was reminiscent of storms in 2015 that shortened qualifying. Hamilton won that year to clinch his third career championship.
The British driver looks on form to do it again. He has a 67-point lead over Germany’s Vettel with four races left. Hamilton has won the Texas race four years in a row and has started no lower than second in that stretch.
The rain kept drivers huddled in their garages most of the afternoon. Vettel ventured out with out with about 12 minutes left and Hamilton spun only a couple of laps in the final eight minutes, but couldn’t run a faster time than his morning lap. Mercedes teammate Vallteri Bottas was second-fastest on the day, 1.3 seconds behind Hamilton in the morning.
“The weather was miserable this morning. It looked like it was going to dry up going into (practice two) but then all of a sudden the heavens opened again,” Hamilton said.
More rain is forecast for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying. The skies are expected to clear for Sunday’s race.