McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton’s annus horribilis continued in free practice for the Indian Grand Prix after he received a three-place grid penalty for ignoring a safety flag.
The 2008 world champion has struggled on the track this season and recently split from his pop-star girlfriend but things seemed to be looking up as he clocked the fastest time in opening practice as he aims to end his year on a high.
But Hamilton will be unable to start from the front row in Sunday’s race after his sanction for ignoring yellow flags warning him that marshalls were close to the track.
Sauber’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez received an identical penalty for ignoring flags at the same turn.
Hamilton had timed 1min 26.836sec with his final run, nosing ahead of Red Bull’s newly re-crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel and his Australian team-mate Mark Webber.
Hamilton’s McLaren partner Jenson Button was fourth, followed by seven-time title-winner Michael Schumacher in his Mercedes.
But Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was one of three drivers who came to grief on the dusty Buddh International Circuit near New Delhi as he stopped his car on a service road and sat disconsolately under a giant TV screen.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari span into the barriers and Pastor Maldonado was forced out of the session when his Williams car started spewing smoke.
The first ever run on Buddh International Circuit was also briefly halted when a stray dog ran onto the track. The 90-minute second session got under way without incident.