Lando Norris should have immediately known what to do when the red flag was shown during qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with FIA race director Michael Masi saying it is “basic” knowledge known by a six-year-old karter.
Qualifying on Saturday saw a record-equalling four red flags for various incidents, but Norris was caught out during the first in Q1 when he was approaching the pitlane. As the red flag was shown, he asked what he should do. His team told him to pit, but by then he had already returned to the track and it was too late to come in.
Norris was handed a three-place grid penalty, dropping him from sixth to ninth, and also given three penalty points on his licence.
The McLaren driver called the penalty “unfair”, insisting what he did was the safer option: “I think a reprimand is the right thing to do. I did not put anyone in harm’s way. If anything, I took the safer option out of boxing or not boxing.
“I do not deserve three points on my license, because I did not do anything dangerous. I did not do anything like because I did not know, or I was clueless or anything. It was nothing to do with that.”
The FIA’s Masi however disagreed and says it’s clear, even to six-year-olds, what a driver must do if they see a red flag.
“From karting all the way through to Formula 1, when a red flag is displayed, the meaning of that is very clear: slow right down, and come to pit lane immediately,” Masi explained.
“There’s no ambiguity from a six-year-old who is in their first karting event through to Formula 1. It’s consistent across all circuit racing.”
The FIA actually applied a less severe penalty than they could have according to Masi, which could have been a five-place grid penalty.
“With regards to the penalty points and the actual penalty itself, obviously the stewards can apply any of the penalties and any penalty points that they see appropriate in an incident,” he added.
“Yes, they do have a guideline to use, but in this circumstance, they saw that it was fit to not apply what the guidelines said because of the mitigating circumstances, which was a harsher penalty.
“However, with regards to the penalty points, they felt that it was appropriate, being a red flag infringement.”