REIGNING world champion Lewis Hamilton will be hit with a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s Formula One Chinese Grand Prix due to a gearbox change, his Mercedes team confirmed on Thursday.
“This weekend is going to be tough,” Hamilton said on photo sharing site Instagram alongside a picture of fans welcoming him at Shanghai airport.
“I will start with a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change but because of you guys I feel energised, motivated, and confident that we can regain ground lost.”
Mercedes said they thought Shanghai was the best place to take the penalty after the gearbox was damaged in Bahrain and needed to be changed.
A driver must use a single gearbox for six consecutive events and the penalty means the highest Hamilton can start Sunday’s race is from sixth on the grid.
Hamilton though has had more success in Shanghai than any other Formula One driver, which makes the race a good location for the triple world champion to try and end Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s winning streak.
Rosberg has started the season with a perfect 50 points from two races, and a run of five successive victories dating back to last November.
The Briton has won four times in Shanghai and could make it three in a row after last season becoming the only driver to win the race in successive years.
“It’s not been a smooth start to the season for me, so to be in the championship position I’m in right now is actually pretty positive,” said Hamilton, who lies second in the standings after a second and a third place.
Hamilton has not won since he took his third world championship in Austin, Texas, last October but the 31-year-old has started both races this season on pole position.
The decision to abandon a failed new live elimination qualifying format and revert to the 2015 version from Shanghai onwards is unlikely to make much difference to Mercedes’ domination of the Saturday session.
Rosberg has reasons of his own to be confident. His first Formula One victory came in Shanghai in 2012 and he stands on the cusp of history with only three other drivers ever putting together a run of six or more wins in a row – two of them also Germans.
Sebastian Vettel managed nine with Red Bull in 2013 and Michael Schumacher seven with Ferrari in 2004. The other was Italian Alberto Ascari in the 1950s.
Mercedes have won the last eight races but Hamilton, 17 points behind Rosberg, is not the only threat to the championship leader.
Rivals Ferrari have yet to show their true pace, and might have won earlier without mishap, but Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can count on plenty of local support in a country where red is a lucky colour.
In Bahrain Vettel did not even start, his Ferrari engine coughing out plumes of smoke on the formation lap, but there will have been plenty of work back at the factory since then.
“We are pushing very hard and we know that we can still improve,” Vettel said after Bahrain.