SHANGHAI, Oct 5 (Reuters) Lewis Hamilton's bid to become Formula One's first rookie world champion remained on track today after stewards cleared him of blame for a collision in Japan last weekend.
''No penalty is imposed upon him,'' they said in a statement.
The 22-year-old McLaren driver, with Red Bull's Mark Webber and Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, met stewards at the Chinese Grand Prix to review video footage of a collision during the rain soaked Fuji race won by the Briton.
Hamilton had turned up for first free practice at the Shanghai circuit amid speculation that he could face a 10 place penalty on the starting grid or worse for the penultimate race of the season.
The Briton leads team mate and double world champion Fernando Alonso by 12 points with two races remaining. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen is 17 points behind Hamilton and the only other driver still mathematically in contention.
SANCTION REDUCED Footage filmed by a fan and posted on the YouTube video sharing Web site (http://uk.youtube.com) suggested that the rookie had contributed to a collision between Australian Webber and Germany's Vettel while they followed him in the wet at Fuji.
Under Formula One rules, the race leader must maintain a standard distance behind the safety car with nobody allowed to overtake.
The safety car is introduced in wet conditions or after an accident to slow the pace of a race, thus avoiding accidents.
Vettel, who last weekend was deemed to have caused the collision and punished with a 10 place penalty on the starting grid for Shanghai, had that sanction reduced to a reprimand.
''What has become apparent is the view clearly expressed by all drivers and team managers alike that the conditions at Fuji were exceptionally bad and worse than those previously experienced when the race starts behind the safety car,'' said the stewards.
''Because of these views, the stewards accept that it may be inappropriate to impose the penalty normally applied for an offence such as this.'' Both Webber and Vettel had told a news conference at the Shanghai circuit yesterday that Hamilton triggered the collision by slowing and pulling wide.
Had Webber passed Hamilton, albeit unintentionally, behind the safety car he would have been subjected to a drive-through penalty and gone to the back of the field. He braked and Vettel, distracted, then ran into the back of him.
Hamilton had earlier defended his actions while clearly fearing the worst.
''I had a good weekend, I didn't put a foot wrong, I didn't do anything to put anyone else in danger,'' he told reporters.
''I've come away to China and all of a sudden I'm going to be punished for something.
''I just think it's a real shame for the sport, Formula One's supposed to be about hard, fair competition,'' he added. ''That's what I've tried to do this year, just be fair.
''There's been some real strange situations this year where I'm made to look the bad person and, by the looks of it, this weekend be given a penalty.
''If this is the way it's going to keep going it's not somewhere I really want to be.'' REUTERS BJR PM1905