As heavy rain fell in the afternoon, delaying the start of the second practice session, the stewards continued with their deliberations knowing that a penalty for Vettel would damage his hopes for the race.
Hamilton can equal the South American's haul on Sunday with three races to spare, the 33-year-old Mercedes driver needing only to score eight points more than Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in the U.S. Grand Prix.
The incident happened 40 minutes into the session after running was suspended due to gravel being dragged onto the circuit by Charles Leclerc's Sauber. All drivers are expected to slow down and drive back to the pits when red flags are waved.
The stewards, having viewed the relevant video evidence, positioning data and telemetry, and heard from a team representative, found that Vettel failed to stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU in marshalling sectors 6 and 7. "A breach of this regulation is seen to be an extremely serious matter".
When asked what the stewards' explanation was, Vettel told reporters following second practice: "They were very specific, saying they took 27.7 seconds to slow down".
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She said such action would be important. "I hope that they can find a way to make it fit, but it will be challenging", she said. Only two priests were charged as a result of the grand jury investigation because the statute of limitations had passed.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean said drivers have "a couple of milliseconds to slow down" when they are informed of a red flag.
His penalty followed two similar examples.
"I think it's pretty straight forward. Each crime is always going to be a little bit different and it's down to the referee to deal with each individual situation as it arises because I think we try through all these team manager meetings and whatever else to come up with penalties and rule for absolutely everything, but every circumstance is always a little bit different".
"I think I slowed down, I had a good look around at what was going on".
"I think the rules are clear as well so we know but I think this is the first time we had this in the wet and in the wet the target is a lot slower so you literally have to stop to 30kph (19mph) or 40/50kph (25-30mph) to bring down the delta, which probably I should do next time".
Gasly said: "It's quite a harsh penalty, if you've been really careful when you pass in front of the crash and just after you don't pay attention so much and you get a penalty like this".