'A bit of a joke': Harsh Vettel penalty divides F1 fans

A controversial grid penalty for Sebastian Vettel has dealt the Ferrari star a huge blow and sparked fierce debate between formula one fans.

Vettel’s hopes of turning around the world championship have taken a big hit after he was given a three-place grid penalty for the United States Grand Prix.

Vettel will start his Ferrari three spots down from his qualifying position in Sunday’s race for “not slowing sufficiently during a red flag period” in first practice.

Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, Vettel’s teammate from next season, had caused the stoppage by spraying gravel over the track and stewards deemed the German had not eased up enough.

It leaves him with an uphill task in the battle with standings leader Lewis Hamilton, who has a 67-point lead with just four races left.

Vettel’s penalty could prove very costly. Pic: Getty

The innocuous incident left race fans divided on social media.

Hamilton will seal his fifth career title if he can gain eight points more than Vettel on Sunday.

And the Briton made the perfect start to the weekend by topping practice twice on a soaking Friday.

A wet track made early running slow but when Hamilton eventually emerged in his Mercedes he posted an unmatchable one minute and 47.502 seconds on a drying 5.5km Circuit of the Americas in the first session.

The second session was not a complete washout but steady, heavy rain meant there was little action.

Hamilton will be looking to capitalise on Vettel’s error. Pic: Getty

Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso looked set for the honour before Hamilton pipped him late on with 1:48.716 as some, though not all, cars took the track in the dying minutes.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was second in the first outing but a huge 1.3 seconds down while the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo were ahead of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari.

Vettel has seen ambitions for his own fifth title fade in recent weeks with a series of mistakes coming at the same time as Hamilton hitting form.

And with Hamilton having won five of six previous races at the venue in Austin, Texas, the championship now seems to be within touching distance.

With AAP