An hour ahead of the start of the Qatar Grand Prix, the FIA announced that both Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas were penalised for ignoring yellow flags during Saturday's qualifying session.
Yellow flags and double yellows were briefly out when at the end of qualifying, Pierre Gasly got car damage from running of the kerbs. As his front wing broke, it caused a tyre puncture as well, leaving his finish his lap slowly before stopped on the main straight.
Valtteri Bottas was deemed to have ignored a single yellow, resulting in a 3-place grid penalty for the Finnish Mercedes driver. Verstappen however improved his laptime while passing a marshall post waving double yellows, a harder offence that resulted in a 5-place penalty for the Dutchman.
Red Bull tried to argue that as the race control message had changed to “track clear,” it was unfair for Verstappen to be expected to react, but the stewards stated Red Bull did not inform him the track was clear and that flags always have to be complied with.
The stewards also stated that the FIA International Sporting Code “places the onus of responsibility of complying with flag signals clearly on the driver, so notwithstanding the fact the team argued that the turning off of the yellow sector on the FIA marshalling system some 34 seconds prior to the driver reaching the yellow flag, signified that it was ‘play on,’ it was the driver’s responsibility to take the appropriate action when entering what was a double yellow flag area.
“The driver acknowledged his awareness of the presence of Car 10 on the right side of the track. Having seen a disabled car, it is reasonable to expect, as was the case of the driver of Car 55, that there was a potential danger and that a yellow flag situation probably existed and therefore to take the appropriate action (i.e. to reduce speed).”
Horner voices disagreement
In defence of Verstappen, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner blamed a "rogue marshall" for the incident:
“We’re really struggling to understand it,” Horner told Sky Sports. “It looks like a complete balls-up. The FIA have effectively said, ‘Play on, the circuit is safe, it’s clear.’ Max was in the first sector, we had so much time to look at it. The dash, everything for him, if indicated otherwise, we would of course, had informed him.
“Unfortunately there’s a yellow flag — he just didn’t see it. He saw the white one (panel), he saw the car, he even saw a green light on the right-hand side. I think it’s just a rogue marshal that stuck a flag out. He’s not instructed to by the FIA — they’ve got to have control of the marshals. It’s as simple as that. That’s a crucial blow in the championship for us. We’re now starting P7 at a track you can’t overtake at. That is massive.
Final starting grid
With the penalties applied, Gasly moved up into second place, ahead of Alonso, Norris, Sainz, Bottas and Verstappen. As of Tsunoda in 8th, positions are identical to the qualifying result.
|2||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Honda||1:21.640|
|3||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||1:21.670|
|4||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||1:21.731|
|7||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:21.424|
|8||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda||1:21.881|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||1:22.028|
|10||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Mercedes||1:22.785|
|11||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:22.346|
|12||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Mercedes||1:22.460|
|14||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||1:22.597|
|15||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||1:22.756|
|16||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:23.156|
|17||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||1:23.213|
|18||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:23.262|
|19||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||1:23.407|
|20||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas Ferrari||1:25.859|