Greater Noida: McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton will be pushed back three grid positions at the Indian Grand Prix after being punished for ignoring yellow flags during Friday’s practice sessions, which was surprisingly topped by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.

Stewards penalized former world champion Hamilton for an incident during the morning session. Sauber’s Sergio Perez was given the same penalty.

Massa had been off the pace of the top cars all season, but his time of 1 minute, 25.706 seconds around the Buddh International circuit was just good enough to push world champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull into second, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso third fastest.

The afternoon session was briefly red flagged after Virgin driver Jerome d’Ambrosio ran wide and made heavy contact with a barrier, while the morning session was red flagged for the more unusual occurrence of a stray dog on the track.

Hamilton topped the timesheets in the morning session, but slipped back to fourth in the afternoon, ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and McLaren teammate Jenson Button.

Hamilton’s penalty came after he opened the rear wing on his McLaren thereby increasing speed in a zone where double yellow flags were being waved to warn drivers to slow down while marshals were retrieving the stricken Williams of Pastor Maldonado from the verge of the track.

Perez made the same transgression a few minutes earlier.

The Force India pair Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta were seventh and ninth respectively in the afternoon, either side of Renault’s Bruno Senna, while Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was 10th.

Massa’s strong performance came despite a front wing that was so low and wobbly that it repeatedly touched the track surface, sending up sparks. The Brazilian has not won a race since 2008 when he came so close to winning the championship.

Since then he had come back from life—threatening injuries when his helmet was struck by a flying part off another car during the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

It was a strong afternoon showing by Ferrari, which had cause for concern in the morning session when Alonso’s car ground to a halt with a power drive problem.

Both sessions were unusually busy on track, with most drivers doing 50—60 laps for the day as they familiarized themselves with the Buddh circuit, laying down valuable rubber on a track that started the day as very dusty and dirty, as is expected of most new circuits but exacerbated by the construction work being done in the area surrounding the circuit.

Mercedes drivers Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were fifth and sixth in the morning session but experimented with different settings in the afternoon and were well off the pace.

(Agencies)