Lewis Hamilton unhappy with stewards after being hit with sprint race penalty

Lewis Hamilton criticised Formula One’s stewards after he was penalised for colliding with Sergio Perez in Saturday’s rain-hit sprint race in Belgium.

Max Verstappen overcame Oscar Piastri’s impressive challenge to land another win ahead of Sunday’s main event in Spa-Francorchamps.

Piastri finished runner-up with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly a surprise third. Hamilton crossed the line in fourth, but was demoted to seventh after he was dealt a five-second penalty for making contact with Perez as they diced for position through Stavelot.

Perez sustained race-ending damage in the accident – with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner accusing Hamilton of putting a big hole in the side of his driver’s machine.

But Hamilton, drawing on a famous quote from his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, said: “As Ayrton said, if you no longer go for a gap that exists, then you are no longer a racing driver.

“That is what I did. And when I watched it back it feels like a racing incident to me.

“The conditions were tricky out there. We are doing our best and it wasn’t intentional. He was slow and I went up the inside and I was more than half-a-car length alongside.

“I feel like we should not be deterred from racing. It would have been nice to finish fourth but I don’t really care about finishing fourth, I want to win.”

The four FIA stewards here – including former British grand prix driver Derek Warwick – also punished Hamilton with two points on his licence.

Surmising the lap-six flashpoint, the quartet determined: “Hamilton was attempting to pass Perez on the inside at Turn 15.

“While Perez was giving little room on the inside for Hamilton, Hamilton drove onto the kerb and subsequently understeered into Perez. The stewards consider that Hamilton was predominantly at fault for causing a collision.”

However, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff backed his superstar driver, adding: “It was absolutely a racing incident. This is a sprint race. We want to see them racing.

“The argument about the damage isn’t valid because he (Perez) was going backwards before then. Massively backwards. And then when you look at that corner, they were side-by-side, and it takes two to tango. It’s a racing incident. For me that’s really clear.”

The start to Saturday’s dash around Spa-Francorchamps was delayed just six minutes before it was due to begin after the heavens opened. A 30-minute postponement ensued.

One formation lap behind the safety car became five in a bid to make the track safe enough to race with visibility caused by spray a major concern ahead of this weekend’s event.

Only four weeks ago, Dutch 18-year-old Dilano Van ‘t Hoff lost his life after a crash during a rain-hit Formula Regional European Championship race.

The approach from race director Niels Wittich resulted in Saturday’s round being reduced to just 11 laps.

But Wolff added: “You can absolutely understand that everyone wants to play it safe.

“We have had terrible accidents here – the last one under similar conditions in the race where drivers couldn’t see because of the spray. So the approach needed to be on the super-safe side and that was right thing to do.”

By the time the safety car peeled in, the track was good enough for the intermediate tyres. And Piastri benefited from being among 10 of the 20-strong field to change from the full wets before a proper racing lap had even taken place.

Verstappen switched to inters at the end of the first lap round allowing Piastri to lead an F1 race for the first time in his career. But on the sixth lap – following a safety-car period to deal with Fernando Alonso crashing out – Piastri’s defence lasted only a handful of corners.

Verstappen tracked Piastri through the fearsome Eau Rouge-Raidillon section and then blasted by on the Kemmel Straight to claim another win and extend his championship lead from 110 points to 118.

Asked if it was a mistake not to stop for inters at the very start of the race, Verstappen said: “No, it was just a safer call.

“I could have come in first and be blocked by other cars in the pits. We lost one position but we knew we were quick and when we put the inter tyres on we were flying.”

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