Once again after the Brazilian GP drama, and the chaos surrounding the decision taken by the FIA of not penalising Max Verstappen for his risky move to defend his race lead from a recovering Lewis Hamilton, another stewards's choice is put under scrutiny.
In the final minutes of Q3 at Losail, Pierre Gasly punctured his front right tyre, bringing out yellow flags while some drivers were still in the midst of their second pole attempt. Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz were summoned the day after. The latter was declared innocent, as he proved to have slowed down significantly, while the others received a starting grid penalty, five positions for Verstappen and three for Bottas.
Was it well deserved? Well, according to former F1 driver and race commentator Martin Brundle, not really, as he highlighted the "indecision" in FIA's decision making process over the last few weeks in his race analysis for Sky Sports UK:
"I thought the grid penalties for him [Verstappen] and Valtteri Bottas were harsh on Sunday. The FIA, who do a generally tremendous job in refereeing the highly complex world of F1, have had a torrid and indecisive couple of weeks since waving through the infamous turn four incident between the championship contenders in Brazil."
While remarking the necessity of respect for such warnings in normal conditions, Brundle went on to explain the reasoning behind his opinion, and listed the justifications that excuse not slowing down for the flags in that particular moment, including the importance held by the last flying lap in such a tight championship and the lack of illumination in the dark:
"From the cockpit on Sunday the drivers would have been on their final qualifying effort exiting the last corner with no visible flags, no incident warning lights on their steering wheel or messages from the pit wall, a blaze of red lights in the night time sky at the finish line indicating the qualifying session is over [...] spotting the DRS activation line which had been re-enabled, pulling up through the gears whilst then working out what that car (Pierre Gasly's three wheeling Alpha Tauri) on the right hand side was actually doing."
The Brit also commented on the not completely crystal clear circumstances of Sainz's lack of punishment, citing as cause the novelty of the track:
"The fact that Carlos Sainz was exonerated because he lifted off the throttle after the stationary car rather underlines the confusion, but rules are rules I guess."
All considered, the punishment didn't have that much impact on the final outcome of the race, as Verstappen managed to return to what should have been his starting P2 in only five laps, and, hadn't Bottas's race been ruined by a puncture that ultimately forced him to retire, he probably could have scored another podium for the German team:
"In the end it made no difference to Verstappen, except he lost any chance of a run at Hamilton in the first corner. And Bottas would have finished third despite a difficult start had he not been the first driver to find out that the Pirelli front tyres could take no more than 30 laps of punishment against the aggressive secondary kerbs," Brundle summed up.