SILVERSTONE (England) • Nico Rosberg had his Formula One world championship lead over Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton cut to one point, after the German was demoted from second to third place in the British Grand Prix on Sunday.
Race stewards imposed a 10-second penalty for receiving radio help from his team, in breach of the regulations that state the driver must drive the car unaided.
"Avoid seventh gear," Mercedes had told Rosberg. "You need to shift through it."
Rosberg had finished the race, won by Hamilton for the third year in a row, 1.3 seconds ahead of Red Bull's Dutch teenager Max Verstappen. He told reporters the gearbox would have failed without the instruction.
Rosberg reeled off four wins in a row at the start of the season while Hamilton has taken four of the last five.
Mercedes told Rosberg to avoid seventh gear five laps from the end after he suffered problems, arguing after the race that the regulations allowed such advice if a terminal failure was imminent.
"It was a very critical problem," said Rosberg, explaining that it was a safety matter. "I was stuck in seventh gear and about to stop on track."
Team boss Toto Wolff read out part of the regulation on "driver aids", saying the list of permitted messages included "indication of a critical problem with the car".
"That was the basis of our decision," he said, even as rivals questioned his interpretation.
Stewards said that while the team "gave some instructions to the driver that were specifically permitted... the team then went further and gave instructions to the driver that were not permitted".
Mercedes said they intended to appeal against the ruling, starting a process that could take weeks to resolve, with a final decision made by the FIA's court of appeal.
This latest penalty had led to criticism from the various F1 teams, who argued that the new radio rules need a rethink.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner argued that the rules did not make a great deal of sense, but had to be respected anyway.
He said: "The rules are the rules, and on two counts it sounds like instructions were given that breached that protocol.
"If it's just a five-second penalty or a reprimand, it's fair game for the rest of the year and there will be loads of messages that will take into account whether it's worth five seconds (added on) or not.
"There's loads of information that we would like to give the drivers but we can't. The question going forward is, 'Are these rules right for Formula One?' "
In Austria a week before Silverstone, questions were raised about the rules when Mexican Sergio Perez crashed after a brake failure that his Force India team had known was imminent but felt unable to warn him about.
FIA race director Charlie Whiting said then that relaxing the radio rule on safety grounds risked opening a loophole that teams might abuse.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE