The sight of Charles Leclerc's Sauber spinning into the gravel in Friday's initial session led to the red flags coming out, and Vettel was deemed not to have decelerated enough when the stewards reviewed the incident at the end of the session.
Sebastian Vettel's faint title hopes have been dealt a major blow after the German was given a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow quickly enough for a red flag in practice one at the US Grand Prix Friday.
The German struggled through a hard day of slithering in the rain and then picked up a potentially fatal grid penalty for speeding under red flags during the morning session.
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.
Vettel and Ferrari had hoped the stewards, who spent several hours investigating his speeding offence in the morning, might take a more relaxed and "common-sense" approach to his misdemeanor.
When a red flag is shown, all drivers are required to drive to a reduced pace and return to the pits.
"I think in the wet, when a red flag comes out, it's potentially unsafe to slam on the brakes", he said.
Consistent with similar scenarios for Daniel Ricciardo in Australia and Esteban Ocon in Japan, Vettel was handed a three-place grid penalty, which he criticized.
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"They [stewards] were very specific, saying I took 27.7s to slow down", said Vettel. "I was aware I slowed down and not much more to say".
"If Sebastian backed off straight away, as you would in a red flag, I think the penalty is extremely harsh".
"I think on top there might have been an issue with the timing, with the system".
"Lining out 27.7s precisely as an act of not complying with the rules..." I slowed down, I looked around.
"There should be common sense with the rules that we have", he said.
"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".
"I'm not sure it's the right thing to do if there's someone right behind you, but it's more important you don't get the penalty".