Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of retaining the Formula 1 world title have been dealt a further blow after he was given a five-place grid penalty for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Hamilton, who trails title rival Max Verstappen by 19 points in the standings with four races of the season to go, has taken the penalty after Mercedes changed his engine for the fifth time this season.
Teams are only allowed to make changes to their engines three times per season before incurring a penalty.
The grid penalty will come into effect following the F1 Sprint on Saturday, with Hamilton unable to start higher than sixth on the grid in Sao Paulo.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton served a 10-place grid penalty at the Turkish Grand Prix last month before finishing fifth, three places behind Verstappen.
He then finished a distant second to the Dutchman at the Mexican Grand Prix last weekend, with the Red Bull driver claiming back-to-back wins following his victory at the United States Grand Prix.
The loss of further ground at Interlagos would be a significant blow to Hamilton’s hopes of overturning Verstappen’s lead during the final three races of the season, with only 78 points remaining after Sunday’s race.
Hamilton refused to rule out the possibility of an engine change ahead of Friday’s qualifying session in Brazil, and warned that a charge through the field would be difficult on Sunday if he was to drop down the grid.
“This is not a very good track for overtaking,” said Hamilton, who won his first world title at Interlagos in dramatic fashion in 2008.
“You have to have a 1.1 second advantage on the car ahead to have a 50 percent chance, or something crazy like that, of making the move.
“I would imagine the challenge this weekend is as steep as it can be. Red Bull’s pace was phenomenal at the last race, and they have had the strongest car this year, so we have done as well as we could.”
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