Sebastian Vettel has been handed a five-place penalty — dropping him to the back of the grid — and three penalty points for a yellow-flag infringement in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The stewards had originally looked at a number of different drivers — including Vettel — after qualifying in regards to their lap times set at the end of Q1 when there were two yellow flags. The first was for Nikita Mazepin spinning at Turn 1, which prompted double-waved yellows that require a driver that came across it to abort their lap.
Later on Saturday night the stewards summoned Vettel to appear on Sunday ahead of the race to explain his lap, with the new Aston Martin staying out to set a time and ending up 18th. After an investigation during which it was accepted that Vettel did not pass visual yellow flags or boards, the German was still hit with a five-place grid penalty that demotes him to last overall, but also gets three penalty points towards the maximum 12 allowed in a year.
“Car 9 spun at Turn 1 in the last moments of Q1 bringing out a double yellow flag in the marshalling sector,” the stewards decision read. “Bottas, Vettel, Perez and Russell approached the scene and drove past Mazepin. Bottas, was immediately instructed by his team to abort his lap in accordance with the Race Director’s Event Notes (Point 7.1). Perez and Russell had received the checkered flag, and were instructed to slow, with Russell receiving the additional information that it had been a double yellow sector.
“Vettel did not abandon his lap. He explained to the Stewards that he saw the smoke ahead of him, but was unsure if it was a lock-up or a stopped car until he was quite close to the car and the smoke was lifting. The Stewards observed that he had already passed the signal panel when it illuminated as he approached the scene, and that the marshals in that turn had not yet reacted with a yellow flag. Nevertheless, Vettel was approaching a car that was stopped sideways on the track and by the rule this would necessitate a double yellow flag.
“During the drivers’ briefing, the Race Director emphasized that the flag code must be rigorously enforced. The Stewards consider that the requirement to abandon the lap during practice and qualifying, both in the Code and in the Race Director’s notes was instituted to disincentivize the drivers from any type of management of their speeds approaching an incident, with a view to maybe setting a lap time, when the requirement is that they should be able to completely stop when approaching such an incident. In this case, it was clear that the driver slowed slightly approaching the incident, but continued trying to set a meaningful lap time.
“In this case, the driver would have received a warning on his dash and the team should have been able to see that the sector had been a double yellow and could have advised the driver as other teams did. While the argument that the driver was already inside the sector when it went double yellow evokes sympathy, the Stewards feel it is important to note that he was approaching an incident visible ahead of him. Further, the car ahead, in the same position, was instructed to abandon the lap, as is intended by the Race Director’s notes.”