DOHA (Reuters) – The Formula 1 commissioners gave Red Bulls championship leader Max Verstappen a fifth place on the grid at the Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday.
They also gave Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas a three-place penalty for ignoring warning flags in qualifying.
The 24-year-old Verstappen had qualified for the front row, the seven-time world champion Hamilton took pole position for Mercedes, but the Dutchman is now starting seventh.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly joins Hamilton in the front row instead, while Bottas drops to sixth place due to Verstappen’s penalty.
The ruling FIA initially placed Bottas in fifth place, but changed this on the last starting grid.
Verstappen is 14 points ahead of Hamilton in three races remaining. Defending champion Mercedes leads Red Bull in the constructors’ championship by 11 points.
In another decision by the stewards, Ferrari acquitted Carlos Sainz of an alleged flag break and no further action was taken. The Spaniard moved up to fifth.
Commissioners found that Verstappen had not respected the double yellow flag after AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly pulled up on the pit straight with a broken front wing and a punctured tire.
Verstappen was also given two penalty points, bringing his record to four over a 12-month period.
Red Bull had tried to mitigate the penalty because the light panels at the edge of the track did not show the yellow warning, there was no warning light in the car and no audio signal from the team to the driver.
The stewards said they had “sympathy” for the request, but the rules said the driver had to drive the car unassisted while flags and lights were the same weight.
They pointed out that Hamilton fell three places last season in Austria for violating a single flag warning, while Sebastian Vettel received a five-place penalty for violating a double flag this year in Bahrain.
“Accordingly, the stewards believe they have no choice but to impose the standard penalty for violating the double yellow flag requirements,” it said in a statement.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Kirsten Donovan and Ed Osmond)