SUZUKA, Japan (REUTERS) - Sebastian Vettel is one race reprimand away from a 10-place grid penalty after Formula One stewards punished the Ferrari driver for missing the national anthem at Sunday's (Oct 8) Japanese Grand Prix.
The German's absence was understandable given the commotion around his car on the starting grid as the Italian team's mechanics hurried to fix a spark-plug problem with the clock ticking.
With the issue unresolved, the four-time world champion retired from the race after just four laps with his title hopes in tatters.
The setback left Mercedes' race winner Lewis Hamilton 59 points clear at the top with four races remaining.
The non-driving reprimand for the rules breach, as opposed to one handed out for something that happened on the track, was Vettel's first of the season.
There are two types of reprimand, for driving and non-driving offences, with three reprimands in a season triggering an automatic 10-place penalty for the next race.
The penalty, however, is only imposed if at least two of the three reprimands were for a driving infringement.
Vettel already has one driving reprimand, imposed at the Monaco Grand Prix in May for crossing the yellow line at the pit lane exit during qualifying.