As if the Formula 1 World Championship were not exciting enough on the asphalt, the dance of infractions, complaints and subsequent sanctions is adding a point of spice to the most exciting championship in recent years. The last chapter: Verstappen has been sanctioned with five places on the grid at the Qatar Grand Prix for not respecting the yellow flags at the end of Saturday’s qualifying.
Consequences: Hamilton, who has been showing for two weekends that Mercedes has taken a step forward, and that today it is a little better than Red Bull, starts on pole, after putting Verstappen almost half a second in qualifying.
And Max? He was second on Saturday, so after the penalty, he will start in seventh position, just behind Carlos Sainz. Another unexpected problem for Red Bull, which just two weeks ago looked very favored to finally break the hegemony of Mercedes in the last seven years. His big problem is that, in front of the Spanish, he will have Valtteri Bottas (also sanctioned, although only with three places), so the Finn can be key if he manages to stop the Netherlands in his rabid mission that Hamilton is not escape.
Because between the British and the Dutch there are now 14 points of difference, after the great victory of Hamilton in Mexico. And after this new setback, the logic indicates that the Mercedes will win easily in Qatar and that Verstappen will finish second … or third, so a notable reduction of that advantage is expected, when there will only be two races left to play.
And what happened on Saturday? First, that Hamilton was unattainable, as he showed in Mexico and has shown all weekend in Qatar. But on the lap in which Verstappen took second place, in a tough fight with Bottas, the other Mercedes, he was met with a double yellow flag after Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) burst his front left tire against a piano.
In these circumstances, the yellow caution flags are activated, so the pilots have to reduce their speed, wherever they are, a little with a single yellow flag, and a lot with a double yellow flag. Well, Verstappen, who was on his fastest lap very close to Gasly, received a double yellow flag … which seems to have passed widely, because he did not reduce and, in fact, got his best time, which gave him the second position in the grill.
Two other drivers who were running nearby, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), saw a simple yellow flag, and when they were in doubt as to whether or not they reduced their speed to what they were obliged to, they were also called on Saturday night, to the like Verstappen, to testify before the commissioners for such a circumstance.
Consequences? The explanations of Verstappen and Bottas fell on deaf ears, as both have been sanctioned: Verstappen with five places, so he goes from second to seventh on the grid; and Bottas, with three, which is actually two when Verstappen passes him “backwards” with his five penalty places, so that, after being third on Saturday, he goes from fifth this afternoon at 15:00, Spanish time.
Carlos Sainz, for his part, was exonerated of all guilt, as he showed that his Ferrari had stopped when he saw the yellow flag, so he will start sixth, and it will be the chorizo of the sandwich that Bottas (fifth) and Verstappen (seventh) will form . That nothing happens to the Madrilenian at the start, because it is expected that sparks will jump in that area of the grid.
The big winners? The first, undoubtedly, Lewis Hamilton, who not only beat Verstappen with clarity, both in Mexico and on Saturday in Qatar, but also sees how his great rival, the man who is 14 points ahead of him in the standings, is sinks in the grill, and further behind his lieutenant, Bottas. And as for ours, Fernando Alonso, who achieved a brutal fifth place in the qualifying on Saturday, advances two places on the grid, by “overtaking” the sanctioned Verstappen and Bottas, and will start third, just behind the poleman, Lewis Hamilton. Little by little, the famous ‘plan’ of the Asturian seems to be paying off.
Therefore, the race in Qatar, the first Grand Prix to be held in these lands in the 71-year history of Formula 1, is expected not to be exciting, but rather exciting. That phrase patented by the maestro Gonzalo Serrano of “if they blink, they lose it”, is more current than ever.