Lewis Hamilton has suggested he is being unfairly targeted by Formula One officials as a result of his recent success at Mercedes, after he was handed a pair of five-second penalties at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The reigning world champion was penalized for twice making practice starts outside of the designated area in the lead-up to the race at the Sochi Autodrom.
An angry Hamilton ended the race third, behind teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull star Max Verstappen, but said afterwards: “I’m pretty sure no one has got two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before.”
On whether the penalties were excessive, he added: “Of course it is. But it’s to be expected. They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they.”
The penalties cost the Brit, who started the race on pole, what would have been his 91st victory in F1, which would move him level with record-holder Michael Schumacher.
When the 35-year-old was pressed on whether he thought officials are attempting to inject excitement into the Drivers’ Championship by targeting him, he continued: “I don’t necessarily think it’s for me.
“Whenever a team is at the front, they are under a lot of scrutiny, everything we have on our car is being triple checked and triple checked, they are changing rules, such as the engine [regulations], lots of things to keep the racing exciting, I assume.
“I don’t know if the rules in terms of what happened today was anything to do with it, but naturally that’s how it feels. It feels we’re fighting uphill. But that’s OK. It’s not like I haven’t faced adversity before.”
Hamilton holds a 44-point lead in the standings with seven races remaining this season.
He has won five of the last six world titles, with the other claimed by former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
After Sunday’s race, the FIA rescinded the two penalty points issued to Hamilton – which left him facing a one-race ban if he picked up two more in the next four races – on the basis that it was his team who instructed him to attempt his practice starts outside the designated area.
The driver was mistakenly told by engineer Peter Bonnington that he could make practice starts at the end of the pit lane.
As a result, Mercedes will pay a €25,000 ($29,000) fine instead of Hamilton receiving the penalty points.
The six-time world champion said he and the team will be even more thorough in adhering to the rules from now on.
“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.”
Hamilton had also missed out on victory at the Italian Grand Prix earlier in September when he made a pit stop while the pit lane was closed, resulting in a 10-second penalty.