Lewis Hamilton’s championship hopes were dealt a major setback after he was excluded from qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid for today’s sprint race at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
FIA stewards determined that Hamilton’s Mercedes fell foul of the technical regulations and his pole lap at Interlagos was chalked off.
Hamilton’s punishment promotes rival Max Verstappen to the front of the grid.
The winner of today’s 24-lap dash at Interlagos takes three points, and pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with the result determining tomorrow’s grid.
Hamilton is already facing a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s main event after Mercedes changed his engine for a fifth time this season.
Verstappen was also investigated after he touched Hamilton’s car in the aftermath of qualifying here.
But the Dutchman escaped with a €50,000 fine and no further punishment.
Hamilton trails Verstappen by 19 points with just four rounds left.
The penalty comes as a seismic blow to Hamilton’s dream of winning a record-breaking eighth world title, with Verstappen now in the driving seat to extend his championship lead. Just 78 points are available following Sunday’s Grand Prix.
The stewards delivered their verdict at 2:04pm local time in Sao Paulo, nearly 20 hours after launching their investigation when Hamilton’s rear wing failed a scrutineering test.
Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows and trackside chief engineer Simon Cole, fought Hamilton’s corner with the stewards on Friday night – and again on Saturday morning.
But although the stewards were in agreement with Mercedes that “something had gone wrong” with Hamilton’s rear wing – “rather than an intentional act or design” – the penalty was applied because there were no “mitigating circumstances”.
The stewards were also “fully satisfied” that Verstappen did not interfere with Hamilton’s car.