Russell, Ocon, Gasly handed two-place grid penalty

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Mercedes driver George Russell and the Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly have been hit with a two-place grid penalty after the stewards deemed that they impeded rivals during qualifying.

Last Saturday's qualifying session for the Mexico City Grand Prix saw several drivers slow down and park their cars down at the end of the pit lane in order to create a gap to the car ahead. Drivers have been doing it since the FIA introduced a minimum lap time that ensures that drivers do not shamble on the track which can be particularly dangerous on tracks that features corners with limited visibility.

At Mexico City, the FIA decided against imposing a penalty for the impeding incidents in the pit lane during qualifying. However, the field felt that it was necessary and urgent that the governing body come up with a solution.

FIA Race Director Niels Wittich issued a new instruction in his pre-weekend document for this weekend's Sao Paulo Grand Prix in which he stated that "drivers are not allowed to go unnecessarily slow, that includes stopping a car in the fast lane of the pit lane.

"During Shootout and Qualifying, drivers may create a gap between the pit exit lights and the SC2 line. Any driver who wishes to do so must drive as far to the left as possible to allow other drivers to pass them on the right side of the pit exit road."

Following yesterday's qualifying session, the stewards deemed that Mercedes driver George Russell has broken the new rule, by impeding the Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. The Briton was subsequently handed out a two-place grid drop which means that he will start eighth on Sunday.

"In order to avoid situations like the ones that occurred in Mexico, the Race Director’s Event Notes for this event contained a specific clause (item 14) stipulating that it was permitted to go slow in the pit exit to create a gap before crossing the SC2 line," said the verdict.

"However, by doing so, a driver must stay as far to the left as possible to allow other drivers to pass on the right side. RUS was exiting the pits, preparing for an out lap. RUS went slow to create a gap for a clear lap, but did not manage to stay completely to the left.

"As a result, following car(s) were not able to overtake, as intended by the Race Director’s instructions. This clearly violates the wording and the spirit of item 14 of the Race Director’s Event Notes."

The Alpine drivers Ocon and Gasly were also deemed to have done the same in qualifying, as they allegedly impeded Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. The two French drivers were hit with the same penalties as a result and will drop to 14th and 15th on the grid respectively.