Palmer: Sochi penalties 'killed off' chance of intriguing battle

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Former Renault F1 driver Jolyon Palmer says that the penalties handed down to Lewis Hamilton for a pre-race infraction wrecked the chance for a classic battle in Sunday's Russian Grand Prix.

Hamilton was handed two five second penalties for conducting practice race starts out of the designated area on the way to the grid.

The penalties dropped Hamilton out of the lead for the race, and while he eventually recovered to finish third he was unable to catch Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas or Red Bull runner-up Max Verstappen.

"Lewis Hamilton's penalties killed off what could have been an intriguing battle for the race win," Palmer wrote in his regular post-race column for BBC Sport.

"Hamilton feels like public enemy number one with governing body the FIA right now," added Palmer, acknowledging Hamilton's own comments that it felt like the race stewards had been out to stop him in Sochi and in an earlier race at Monza.

"The reality is that Hamilton and Mercedes have simply broken the rules both times," he said. "I don't think the FIA stewards are against Hamilton, they are simply applying penalties for breaches of the rules.

"None of Hamilton's immediate rivals made the same mistake in Monza and nobody else in the field broke the rules by doing a practice start at the exit of the pit lane in Sochi.

"I do sympathise with Hamilton, because it is not necessarily his fault in both of these instances," Palmer said, after the FIA itself acknowledged that Hamilton has been misdirected over the issue by the Mercedes pit wall.

With Hamilton not able to compete for victory at the front, Palmer felt that the problems with Sochi as a race venue had been laid bare. "There was precious little action down the field," he wrote, dubbing Sunday's Grand Prix "a boring race on a bland track".

"In defence of this year's race, without Hamilton's penalty, it may have been set up for a good race with offset tyre strategies between the Mercedes drivers," he acknowledged. "But we were denied a chance to see that play out.

"There have been seven Russian Grands Prix at Sochi now, and it has yet to produce a properly decent race. Overtaking is tricky and cars often spread out, despite the track having a high chance of a safety car," he pointed out. "The safety car on Sunday did little to spice up the action unlike in Mugello."

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Palmer suggested that the problem with Sochi was that it is almost completely flat and mainly consisted of 90 degree corners, with turn 2 in particular described by Williams driver George Russell as "one of the worst on the calendar."

"With a combination of track-limits madness and a lack of overtaking it's a thought that many share," opined Palmer.

However Palmer did have words of praise for Racing Point's Sergio Perez, who was fourth on Sunday despite having been told he will lose his current seat at the team at the end of 2020.

"He is putting in some good performances in the face of adversity, to solidify his reputation and plant himself firmly on the radar of other teams," Palmer said. "His fourth place is a demonstration that he does deserve a place in a decent car next season."

Perez has been ousted by Sebastian Vettel, who had another poor outing on Sunday as he serves out his final races with Ferrari.

"Vettel had another weekend to forget," said Palmer. "The Ferrari is certainly a handful with which Vettel is struggling to make any progress, but on top of that his relationship with the team has soured.

"Vettel doesn't seem to trust the Ferrari strategists at all this year," he added. "There has been needle between Vettel and team principal Mattia Binotto all season long since it was confirmed Vettel hadn't retained his drive.

"A fresh challenge at Aston Martin will reinvigorate Vettel, and he probably can't wait for it to come around already."

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