Lewis Hamilton will start the Belgian Grand Prix from the very back of the grid after serving a mammoth 30-place grid penalty following further changes to his engine yesterday.
The reigning world champion, who leads his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by 19 points in this year’s title race, was already staring at a grid drop after his team confirmed he had taken on a number of new engine components in opening practice, thus exceeding the allocation he is allowed.
And under the sport’s complicated engine rules, his penalty could yet rise to as high as 75 places should Mercedes opt to fit further new parts to his engine - in order to ensure he does not incur any further penalties in the remaining races - before qualifying today.
But with only 22 drivers on the grid, the size of Hamilton’s punishment actually matters little with the world champion simply ordered to the back of the field, and not incurring a further timed penalty.
He will be joined there by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who will serve a 30-place grid drop for also using more engine parts than is permitted.
Hamilton may now choose to run only once in qualifying - he has to set at least one competitive time - with his grid position for tomorrow’s race already sealed. But such a scenario will come as a blow to the thousands of British fans who have travelled in excess of 300 miles to Belgium in anticipation of seeing a straight fight between the world champion and Rosberg for pole position.
They will however, be provided with the tantalising prospect of watching Hamilton storm back through the field in Sunday’s race.
“It was a straightforward day for me but a tough one for the guys in the garage with the engine change,” said Hamilton, who was off the pace in practice yesterday as he concentrated on his race strategy.
“The important thing is that we got through our programme smoothly today and can start focusing on the rest of the weekend.”
The penalty has been looming over Hamilton after he encountered a number of engine failures in the opening rounds of the season.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team had been weighing up whether to take the grid drop here at Spa-Francorchamps or at next Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix, with both circuits expected to offer him the best chance of fighting back through the field.
But a decision was taken earlier this week by Formula One’s all-conquering team to incur the penalty on the sport’s return to action following its traditional mid-season slumber, No driver in the history of the sport has ever won from last on the grid, while Hamilton - who is chasing his 50th career victory - has failed to win a race from lower than sixth on the grid.
John Watson holds the record of winning from the lowest start slot after lining up in 22nd on the grid of 26 before winning the 1983 US Grand Prix at Long Beach. More recently, Kimi Raikkonen fought back from 17th to win the Japanese GPi n 2005.
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