Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has been demoted from pole position at the Mexican Grand Prix by a penalty for ignoring warning flags.
The Dutchman was given a three-place grid drop and will start fourth, behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen failed to slow down for yellow caution flags after a crash by Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas. The error cost Verstappen pole, as his first lap was also fastest of anyone.
In front of him, Vettel had slowed down for the flags, a decision that he believed cost him a shot at fastest time.
Verstappen’s quickest lap beat Leclerc by 0.266 seconds – and his first run was 0.114secs faster than the Monegasque.
Hamilton, who will win the championship one Sunday if he finishes 14 points ahead of Bottas, starts third, with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon still fifth but now right behind his team-mate.
Hamilton improved his overall lap time on his final run, on which he was running behind Bottas and passed his crashed car, but crucially he did not go faster in the final sector – in fact, he slowed down.
And Vettel expressed his dismay at the turn of events as he saw the flags, saying over the radio: “You’re kidding me. That was going to be a good lap.”
Later, Vettel said of the incident: “For me it was clear it was double yellow. I saw Valtteri was in the barrier, people were jumping on the track to help. It was clear you had to lift.”
Initially, stewards did not investigate the incident with Verstappen, even though television pictures showed him passing a yellow flag and Bottas’s car without slowing down.
But after he admitted in the news conference that he was “aware Valtteri crashed” but did not slow down, he was summoned to see the stewards.
Bottas crashed as he ran wide out of the final corner trying to make up time, sliding into the barriers and causing considerable damage to his car. The Finn was released from the medical centre after a precautionary check-up.
It was a blow for the Finn as he tries to prevent Hamilton putting the championship out of reach. But starting third, it is still a big task for Hamilton to make as much of a gain on Bottas as he needs to clinch his sixth title.
Hamilton needs to finish on the podium at least and hope Bottas’ results go his way.