While analysis of Verstappen’s onboard footage from qualifying clearly showed that the Dutchman had passed a double waved yellow flag for Pierre Gasly’s stationary AlphaTauri before finishing his lap, the overall situation was not crystal clear because of the lack of other warnings.
In particular, as Red Bull duly argued with the stewards, the regular yellow warning light panels that are used were not flashing in this area of track at the time.
Furthermore, the FIA’s official marshalling system had switched off its yellow alert status shortly beforehand – meaning that Verstappen did not receive a dashboard warning nor audible signal as could be expected when he enters a double yellow sector.
But despite the mitigating circumstances, the FIA stewards were clear that Verstappen had been in breach of the rules simply for ignoring the yellow warning flags.
In their statement explaining the decision, the stewards admitted there was some ‘sympathy’ because of the lack of lights, dashboard alert and audio signal, but they said that the rules breach still took place.
As they pointed out, Article 27.1 of F1’s Sporting Regulations says that drivers must drive the car alone and unaided, while Appendix H of the International Sporting Code states the flags and lights have exactly the same meaning.
They added: “Article 27.2 requires the driver to observe the International Sporting Code at all times.
“That code, in Appendix H 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 second 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 stewards said they had listened to the radio conversation between the Red Bull pit wall and Verstappen’s car, and the team had not communicated anything about it being a ‘play on’ situation.
Verstappen admitted in the hearing that he had been aware of Gasly’s stricken car – but that simply left the stewards feeling that the Red Bull driver should have taken appropriate action to back off.
With precedent from previous decisions being a three-place grid penalty for a single yellow offence, and a five-place grid penalty for ignoring double yellows, the stewards said they had no choice but to impose the drop.