Verstappen stripped in dramatic F1 storm
Max Verstappen thought he'd ended Ferrari's qualifying streak by claiming a superb Red Bull pole position for the Mexican GP ahead of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel but he was later stripped of his place at the front of the grid.
Verstappen was handed a three-place grid penalty and will now start fourth for failing to slow down when the yellow flags were out following Valtteri Bottas' crash during qualifying.
The order was set from the first laps in Q3 as Bottas' late crash into the TecPro barriers at the final corner caused yellow flags and denied the Ferraris a chance to beat Verstappen - although neither Leclerc nor Vettel looked likely to snatch pole.
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Verstappen, who was the last driver to cross the line, improved on his time - but Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky F1 that the yellow flags had cleared when he reached that section of the track.
Drivers are supposed to slow down when a yellow flag appears and there was some controversy about whether Verstappen would face repercussions for failing to do so as some in the motorsport community suggested the Dutchman should be penalised.
Vettel said: "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."
The controversy took a dramatic turn when Verstappen admitted in the post-qualifying press conference he saw Bottas crash but did not slow down.
"I was aware that Valtteri crashed," he said. "It didn't really look like it (that he slowed down), did it? No."
While Verstappen wasn't under investigation at first, he was summoned to see the stewards as a result of his provocative comments that have come back to haunt him.
In a ruling issued nearly four hours after the end of qualifying, stewards said data and video evidence "clearly showed that the driver attempted to set a meaningful lap time and failed to reduce his speed" at the relevant point of the track.
After the youngster's admission in front of reporters, Lewis Hamilton said he needed to be penalised.
"It's really really important the FIA are very very strict with the double yellow flags," Hamilton said. "It is just being careless and not abiding by the rules. I think the FIA need to be very very strict on that.
"Luckily there was no marshal on the track. For all he knew, Valtteri could have been in the middle of the circuit and marshals could have been there.
"That's what double yellow means - could be massive incident ahead. The fact that he ignored it, hopefully the right calls are made and put in place.
"The drivers need to know to respect those things. The fact is he said he saw it. He saw the flags and decided not to react to it."
Others also weighed in as F1 broadcaster and journalist Will Buxton hit out at Verstappen's "arrogance".
"I adore Max but my God he can be frustrating," Buxton tweeted. "That first lap was astonishing. He had P1 by rights. As soon as VB crashed nobody could improve. His belligerence in not lifting and then defending his actions have cost him and show despite his maturity this year, there's a way to go.
"All that said, there is a rawness to him and an honesty that's almost admirable in a way. His actions today were dangerous and unnecessary. His arrogance in the face of his fault was foolish. But would you want him any other way?"
Just an FYI Max, usually you get a decent penalty for going purple under yellow flags 🤷🏻♂️ Or do the rules still only apply to junior categories... 🤔— Jack Aitken - 한세용 (@JaitkenRacer) October 26, 2019
Double yellow and purple last sector for Max is a bad combination. As far as I know by the rules when there is a double yellow you are supposed to abort your lap. Lap time deleted and a penalty normal procedure. A shame after such an amazing performance by him. #F1Mexico— Marcus Ericsson (@Ericsson_Marcus) October 26, 2019
The FIA have been telling some sections of the media that Verstappen will now be investigated as a result of his comments in the press conference.— Ben Hunt (@benjhunt) October 26, 2019
Honestly, what a shambles. How hard can it be to have a coherent chain of communication?
RICCIARDO FUMES AS WEEK FROM HELL GETS WORSE
Hamilton, who will secure a sixth F1 title if he outscores Valtteri Bottas by 14 points in the race, will now start from third.
Bottas had a dramatic shunt at the end of a competitive Q3, which saw all three leading teams fighting for pole, and could only manage sixth behind Alex Albon.
Daniel Ricciardo's week from hell got worse and a horror run in qualifying will see him start 13th on the grid, one place behind teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Back in the garage, while still kitted out in his full racing gear with his helmet on, a frustrated Ricciardo roared an expletive that was picked up by the microphones.
The poor result comes after Renault was disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix for using a driver aid in its car, which saw Ricciardo stripped of the eight points he picked up for finishing sixth at Suzuka.
McLaren impressed again, with Carlos Sainz securing an increasingly regular seventh place - just ahead of young teammate Lando Norris who bemoaned a sloppy session despite beating his other midfield rivals.
Toro Rosso rounded off an impressive day for Honda power with both drivers in the final shootout.
HOW RED BULL BLITZED FERRARI, AND WHY HAMILTON IS HAPPY
A team with a "massive" advantage who were "miles ahead" was how Hamilton and Verstappen described Ferrari's pre-qualifying form, and before the shootout began, all signs pointed to the Scuderia securing a sixth straight F1 2019 pole.
Vettel topped P2, Leclerc was ahead in final practice, and Ferrari were gaining around half a second on the long Mexico City straights.
But the Italian team didn't top any of the qualifying segments - Red Bull set the pace in Q1 and Mercedes in Q2 - and then couldn't extract the optimum grip from their tyres in the final stages.
"We would like to be a bit further up, I think it was possible," said Vettel, while Leclerc added: "Red Bull was very quick. Max was very quick."
Being very quick has become something of the norm for Verstappen, but Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto was not happy that both his drivers backed out for yellow flags, while Verstappen didn't seem to.
Despite finishing behind that top three, Hamilton was also content with his day. The championship leader knows beating Bottas by 14 points is unrealistic here but is still determined to wrap up his sixth crown sooner rather than later.
"I think third place was possible but I'm generally happy with today," Hamilton, whose record-breaking Mercedes team claim Mexico is their worst race of the year, told Sky F1. "It's just hard to keep up with the others.
"We knew it would be hard this weekend coming here, but I gave it everything. It wasn't enough for pole but I think I got everything out of the car and it puts us in a fighting position for tomorrow so I hope I can get a good start."
His teammate and title-rival Bottas was breathing heavily on team radio after his crash, when he lost grip on the kerb, but got cleared in the medical centre after qualifying.
Renault, out in Q2, and Haas, out in Q1, had days to forget, while George Russell continued his perfect qualifying record after beating Williams teammate Robert Kubica by over a second at the back of the grid.
MEXICAN GP GRID: TOP 10
1. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
5. Alex Albon, Red Bull
6. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
7. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
8. Lando Norris, McLaren
9. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso
10. Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso
This article first appeared on Sky Sports and was reproduced with permission