FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of claiming pole position for the first Indian Grand Prix have been hit by yet another penalty in a troubled season.

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The 26-year-old F1 racer from Hertfordshire enters qualifying at 9.30am BST on Saturday knowing he will drop three places down the grid.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes star Hamilton, on pole position for the Korean GP, was hit with the punishment after ignoring double waved yellow flags on his final flying lap in first practice at the Buddh International Circuit this morning (Friday).

McLaren officials have accepted the FIA race stewards’ decision, as has the 2008 world champion, and Hamilton will be looking for a strong result in qualifying now to compensate for his three-place grid penalty.

He was quickest in P1 today with a lap of 1m 26.836s and was fourth fastest in the second session with a 1m 26.454s, despite suffering a driveshaft problem with his MP4-26.

Hamilton, who has split up with X Factor USA judge girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, said: “We looked quick this morning.

“This afternoon, however, I had a problem with the driveshaft – it felt like it was causing some wear and tear so it prompted me to end the session a little early.

“We’ll fit a new gearbox for tomorrow, so the car will hopefully start behaving a bit better. That should make things closer at the front.”

Despite having his afternoon long run interrupted, Hamilton was impressed with F1’s newest circuit.

“The track is fantastic – the organisers here in India have done a great job,” said the Stevenage-born motor racer, who wore a race helmet with a Bob Marley ‘One Love’ design painted on the top.

“It’s very fast and flowing, the grip-level is fantastic, the run-off areas seem to be good, and the kerbs are probably the best of any circuit we visit: nice rumble-strips that you can drive on.

“Like any brand-new circuit, it’s been gripping-up throughout the day.”

Looking ahead to the country’s inaugural grand prix, Hamilton added: “Sunday’s race will be a long one.

“Nevertheless, there will be opportunities to overtake: it’s a high-downforce circuit and, although it’ll be very hard to follow other cars closely, the double-DRS zone should make it a bit easier.

“We’ll get a clearer idea tomorrow [Saturday] of just how quick we really are.”

Bookies William Hill have already pushed Hamilton’s odds out from 2/1 to 6/1 to win the race.

“Hamilton was the clear second favourite to grab a win in India, but his chances may well be as good as over following his three-place penalty,” said Hill’s spokesman Joe Crilly. “It may well be over for Lewis.”

Like Hamilton, McLaren team-mate Jenson Button also likes the new Greater Noida track.

He said: “It’s great fun to drive. There are some tough corners, like Turns Three and Five, but there’s also a lot of high-speed stuff and it feels a lot faster than we initially thought it would.

“What’s also been quite a surprise is the amount of grip out there, particularly in the faster corners where the downforce is really working for you.

“And, because the high-speed corners are pretty smooth, you can really carry a lot of speed through them.

“It’s difficult to get the tyres up to their optimal working temperature range, but, once they’re in the operating window, the high-speed grip is phenomenal. From Turn Five onwards, the track is actually very quick.”

Button added: “We’ll have a lot of fun this weekend and we’re hopefully going to be fighting for the win on Sunday.”

The 2011 Indian Grand Prix starts at 9.30am GMT on Sunday.

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