Vettel hit with five-place grid penalty, starts last

Mark Scott
Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Nikita Mazepin Haas

Michael Masi explains Sebastian Vettel's five-place grid penalty.

Sebastian Vettel will start the Bahrain Grand Prix from last after being hit with a five-place grid penalty by the FIA race stewards.

Vettel’s difficult start to life with Aston Martin has continued ahead of the season opener in Sakhir after a shock exit in Q1, which was due to see him line up from P18 on Sunday’s grid.

The German’s push lap was twice disrupted by yellow flags, the first was when Nikita Mazepin spun out at Turn 1 and the second when Carlos Sainz encountered an engine problem in his Ferrari which forced him to slow down.

The FIA initially took no further action against the drivers trying to set times during the yellow flags period, but Vettel was called back to see the stewards on Sunday morning to discuss the yellow flag caused by Mazepin in particular.

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After the meeting, the stewards issued the following verdict:

‘The Stewards heard from the driver of Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel), the team representative and have reviewed video, radio, telemetry and marshalling system evidence, from both Car 5 and the cars surrounding him.

‘Car 9 spun at Turn 1 in the last moments of Q1 bringing out a double yellow flag in the marshalling sector. 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 chequered 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 emphasised 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 disincentivise 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.

‘The Stewards therefore order the usual penalty in this case, a drop of five grid positions.’

Vettel also has three penalty points added to his license for failing to respect the double yellow flags.

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