Lewis Hamilton has been handed a boost in his quest to be crowned a three-time Formula One world champion in Austin after Sebastian Vettel was hit with a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.
Hamilton needs to outscore Ferrari driver Vettel by nine points and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by two points to become the first Briton to win back-to-back championships.
Indeed if Hamilton wins – at a circuit in which he has triumphed in two of the last three seasons – and Vettel is third or lower, the 30-year-old will win the title with three races to spare.
And on Thursday, Hamilton’s path to glory was made easier after it was revealed that Vettel and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen will be demoted 10 places on the grid after taking on a new engine.
“Yes, we will have the hit of a 10 places penalty for a new engine at this event but it has always been the plan,” said Vettel at a damp Austin with heavy rain forecast for the remainder of the weekend.
“It is not a big secret and no surprise for us. This was always the plan for us to have the strongest engine available at every single point in the season.
“I think our engine guys have done actually a massive job. So this should not be understood as a down side.
“I think if anything this is a very positive sign because we are pushing very hard and the guys have managed to make big steps in terms of performance.”
Vettel is 66 points adrift of Hamilton with 100 to play for, but the four-time world champion said his Ferrari team now have one eye on taking the challenge to Mercedes in 2016.
Vettel added: “Obviously if you look at just this race in isolation, for sure it’s not great news but then you have to look at the whole project, the whole season and it was always the plan to have a fresh engine until the end of the season from here.
“The priority was always to have maximum power at every single race and that has been our plan and I think it worked very well so far.
“Obviously we have to take the hit here but then we should see the positive and the fact we were able to make big steps.”