Charles Leclerc has been demoted to seventh place in the Japanese Grand Prix as a result of two different penalties handed out by the stewards post-race.
The start saw Leclerc make contact with Max Verstappen at Turn 2, causing Verstappen to spin off the track and giving the Red Bull damage that would eventually lead to his early retirement from the race. Initially the stewards opted against investigating the incident, but then later reversed that decision and opened an investigation that was delayed until after the race.
Having heard from both drives, Leclerc was handed a five-second time penalty, with the stewards saying he was predominantly at fault even if his move to the outside of the track was unintentional.
“As the cars approached the apex of Turn 2, car 33, which was marginally in front, stayed wide and allowed sufficient room to the inside but car 16 lost front grip in the wake of the car in front and abruptly understeered towards the outside of the track, contacting car 33 and forcing it off the track,” the decision read. “While the loss of front grip on car 16 caused the contact and was not intentional, that loss of grip in close proximity to the car in front should have been anticipated and allowed for by car 16.
“Car 16 is judged predominantly at fault for the incident. This is a somewhat unusual first lap incident, as only these cars were directly involved, so few of the normal mitigating circumstances exist.”
Race director Michael Masi explained after the race why the stewards changed their minds in order to open an investigation into the incident.
“Some new evidence became available that they didn’t have available at the time and they chose to effectively re-open the investigation,” Masi said. “So originally with what was available to them they made a determination that there was no investigation necessary, then they got some other footage which they didn’t have and well within their rights it was a new element and they re-opened it.”
While that penalty did not cost Leclerc a position in the final result, a further penalty did when he was handed a 10-second time penalty for Ferrari not pitting him to inspect the damage sustained in that collision.
Leclerc continued until Lap 3 before pitting, with debris from his front wing detaching and striking Lewis Hamilton’s car on Lap 2. Ferrari had already told Masi it would pit Leclerc before that debris detached, and then opted to stay out, having to be told to pit by race control.
“By not bringing car 16 into the pits at the end of Lap 1, immediately after the incident for a safety inspection when there was damage clearly visible and then by telling the driver to remain out for an additional lap after telling the Race Director otherwise, the team created an unsafe condition on the circuit which only narrowly avoided being a major incident and also increased the likelihood of additional incidents after the one noted,” the stewards noted.
Ferrari was also fined €25000 ($28,000) for the incident.