The penalty, for speeding while red flags were waved, was consistent with other drivers' penalties this year, but left Vettel frustrated and dented his hopes of stopping Lewis Hamilton clinching his fifth world title this weekend.
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.
Vettel failed to slow sufficiently during the red-flag period, a clear breach of Article 31.6 of the F1 sporting regulations. It seems as though Vettel's Ferrari was clocked exceeding that pace and, if that was the case, it is likely to be a fairly straightforward decision to impose a penalty.
Vettel is now 67 points behind Hamilton in the Drivers' Championship with just 100 remaining from the final three races in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
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Esteban Ocon of Force India and Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull were given three-place penalties for speeding under red flags at the Japanese and Australian Grands Prix respectively. Lining out 27.7 seconds precisely as an act of not complying with the rules I think is wrong. They found it took too long and yeah. While the awful weather that hit Austin during Friday practice means we had no chance to evaluate the relative performance of Mercedes and Ferrari on the day, the previous three weekends have proved emphatically that the silvers cars are the faster by some margin. "In my opinion it's not the right thing, [because] if there's a vehicle behind you, it might run into you, but more important that you don't get a penalty". I think it's wrong, I think I slowed down, I had a good look around. Give him a penalty, give him a fine or something and give the money to charity or something like that but to give him a three-place penalty for how much over the limit was he?
"I think it's the first time we had [the target lap] in the wet and in the wet the target is a lot slower, so literally I have to stop to 30kph or 40, 50 kph, to bring down the delta, which probably I should do next time".
In the rainswept session, Hamilton was top ahead of Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen of Red Bull, Fernando Alonso of McLaren and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.