Six days after he collided with Valtteri Bottas in France, Vettel will start the Austrian Grand Prix from only sixth after he was penalised for blocking another driver in qualifying.
Hamilton was beaten to pole position by Bottas in the sister Mercedes, but the Englishman, 33, will take huge comfort from Vettel’s latest setback.
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff celebrated Vettel’s penalty with a fist-pump as news of the stewards’ verdict emerged during the Austrian’s media briefing.
Vettel qualified third at the Red Bull Ring, but was demoted three places after he was adjuged to have impeded Carlos Sainz as the Renault driver attempted a flying lap.
Vettel argued that his Ferrari team did not tell him about Sainz, and he was unaware of the approaching Spaniard. However, Vettel also admitted to briefly taking his eyes off the road.
BREAKING: Sebastian Vettel will serve a three-place grid penalty at Sunday’s #AustrianGP
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 30, 2018
Speaking before the penalty was issued, Vettel said: “I was looking down on the main straight, and I didn’t see him. I wasn’t told on the radio, so I can only apologise to him. Obviously, there was no intention.”
But the German was summoned to the officials, and following a 90-minute investigation, he was hit with the grid penalty.
“It is the belief of the stewards that notwithstanding the absence of a radio call, the driver of car 5 (Vettel) should not have been so slow and on the racing line during a slow-down lap,” F1’s governing body, the FIA, said in a statement.
The error marked Vettel’s sixth high-profile mistake in the last calendar year. He banged wheels with Hamilton in Azerbaijan, crashed out in Singapore, tangled with Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the start in Mexico, and fell from second to fourth when he ran off the road in Baku earlier this season. He also lost 15 points to Hamilton last Sunday after his crash with Bottas at the start.
“In order to win a championship you need to be as fast as possible, as reliable as possible and with the least errors,” Wolff said. “Sometimes it is difficult to put of all these things together.
“Sebastian’s biggest strength is certainly his ambition, but sometimes, as in France, it goes against him.
“Every team is aware that you need to get out of the way in order not to have a penalty, and all drivers are instructed by their engineers about what is happening behind them.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 30, 2018
Wolff added: “It is important to collect every single point. If you leave something on the table, it can bite you. The situation is more comfortable like this.”
With Wolff’s Mercedes cars locking out the front row, Vettel will now start behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Verstappen, and the Haas of Romain Grosjean.
Hamilton is 14 points ahead of Vettel and now looks set to establish an even greater championship lead ahead of his home race at Silverstone a week on Sunday.
Bottas denied Hamilton his 50th career pole for Mercedes after edging out the four-time champion by just 0.019 seconds.
Hamilton made a mistake on his penultimate run after he ran wide at turn two which left him with too much to do to.
“Valtteri did a fantastic job, and he deserved the pole,” Hamilton said. “I made a mistake and when you don’t have your first lap in Q3 as a banker, you’re building from scratch for the second one. There’s lots to play for tomorrow.”
The Italian team confirmed that the experienced Cigarini had broken his tibia and fibula in the accident when Raikkonen was pulling away after his second pit stop.
In a brief statement on Twitter, the team said: “Apparently a shinbone and fibula fracture, our thoughts are with Francesco, stay strong.”
Raikkonen was criticised by fans on social media for a lack of emotional reaction to the accident caused by problems with his left-rear wheel.
“I don’t know what shape he is in,” Raikkonen, dubbed the ‘Ice Man’ for his taciturn nature, told reporters immediately afterwards.
“It’s not great for him. I go when the light is green… Not much to say.
Apparently a shinbone and fibula fracture, our thoughts are with Francesco, stay strong #BahrainGP
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) April 8, 2018
“We did not finish the race so it is not great, but this is what happens sometimes.”
A green light in the Ferrari pits had indicated to Raikkonen that he should drive away even though the left rear wheel had not been changed.
The mechanic working on that wheel, Gigarini, was knocked down and run over.
One fan on Twitter said that Raikkonen had to be “one of the most emotionless men in the world”.
Cigarini was taken to the circuit medical centre on a stretcher after the incident.
Raikkonen’s Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel won the race for his second straight victory to start the season.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen insisted the new halo on Ferrari’s 2018 car would not hinder performance as the Italian stable chases a first Formula One title in a decade.
The halo-fitted F-71H was presented at the team’s headquarters in Maranello, four days before the start of pre-season testing at Barcelona.
For the fourth consecutive year 38-year-old Raikkonen and four-time world champion Vettel, 30, will spearhead the Scuderia’s campaign.
“The halo looks different but to be honest we tried it last year and it wasn’t a big difference,” Raikkonen said.
Vettel added: “I don’t think the halo will bother, I think it’s much less intrusive than I thought. We will all get used to using it.”
The Ferrari drivers’ approach to the halo was in stark contrast to that of Tito Wolff, the team boss of bitter rivals and defending world champions Mercedes who earlier in the day said he couldn’t stand the sight of the controversial head protection device.
“I’m not impressed with the whole thing and if you give me a chainsaw I would take it off,” said Wolf, who complained about the weight of the new device, at his team’s official launch.
“I think we need to look after the driver’s safety, but what we have implemented is aesthetically not appealing and we need to come up with a solution that simply looks better.”
Ferrari’s new car is painted in the traditional red livery, but unlike its predecessors with very little white.
“(The car) looks nice and usually when it looks nice, there’s speed also,” added Raikkonen.
“Our goal is to always be faster. The car is excellent and next week we will know something more and we will understand how much work there is still to do,” added the Finn.
The new challenger has a longer wheelbase to move it more into line with rival Mercedes’ design.
“We have kept the aggressive concepts. The SF71H has a tighter car body and has been built to perform in high-speed circuits,” said Ferrari’s technical director, Mattia Binotto.
Ferrari were second in the 2017 championship and this season will bid to challenge four-time holders Mercedes.
“We’re capable I’m certain,” said team principal Maurizio Arrivabene.
Ferrari have not won the constructors title since 2008 with Raikkonen last winning the drivers title for Ferrari in 2007.