The FIA has admitted that mistakes were made over the course of the Singapore Grand Prix with Max Verstappen afforded a lucky escape.
Verstappen was investigated by the stewards for three separate impeding incidents during qualifying last weekend. The Red Bull driver had blocked Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant out on track and also drew attention to himself when he formed a queue in the pitlane.
The Dutchman escaped penalties for his encounter with Sargeant but was handed reprimands for blocking Tsunoda and for slowing in the pitlane. Red Bull was also fined €5000 after failing to communicate the whereabouts of the approaching Tsunoda to the driver.
Logan Sargeant also escaped a grid drop for impeding Lance Stroll during Q1, with Williams also fined €5000 for a lack of communication.
The decisions attracted criticism from rival teams as impeding incidents during qualifying traditionally resulting in a three-place grid drop.
The FIA has now admitted that both Verstappen and Sargeant should have received grid drops for their respective infringements.
While it was explained that the stewards are not obliged to apply past decisions when determining an outcome, regardless of perceived precedent, it was adjudged that in each case, the teams were predominantly at fault rather than the drivers.
The decision contradicts previously made comments stating that a lack of communication from teams should not be used to mitigate a grid penalty.
George Russell, the director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association said: “It definitely sets a bit of a precedent and you want to have consistency across the board.
“It seemed pretty, pretty clear cut with a number of those incidents. It was strange that they got away with that one. It didn’t really affect any results.
“But it doesn’t matter if you’re leading the championship or you’re last – if you get in somebody’s way you should be penalized for it.”
The subject was further discussed in Friday’s team managers’ meeting which was attended by Matteo Perini, who served as a steward in Singapore and continues his duties this weekend.
Perini admitted that on review, Verstappen should have been penalised harsher for his blocking of Tsunoda. Sargeant also should have received a grid drop, although it was acknowledged that there were other circumstances in his case.
Perini also confirmed that the decisions would not be used as a precedent in the future, and reaffirmed that a lack of radio communication should not be used as a mitigating circumstance to protect a driver from harsher penalties.
The stewards stand by their decision to only reprimand Verstappen for stopping in the pitlane as there is no regulation that explicitly bans the practice. Teams are now understood to have encouraged the introduction of a rule to prevent a repeat of the situation.
Although the FIA has taken accountability and teams afforded clarity on the situation, questions remain over how a grid penalty would have influenced Verstappen’s race. If the standard three-place drop was applied, the Dutchman would have found himself in the centre of the midfield scrap in Singapore, starting from 14th.
While it is impossible to predict the outcome in such an alternate scenario, it goes without saying that the Red Bull driver’s recovery to fifth would have been made more challenging and could have provided a vital shot at points for lower midfield teams.