Max Verstappen’s plea for the stewards to take a more lenient view on track limits in qualifying was clearly ignored after another chaotic session in Qatar on Friday evening. FIA regulations stipulate that drivers must “make every effort to use the track at all times and may not leave the track without a justifiable reason”.
“Drivers will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with it and, for the avoidance of doubt, any white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not.” But tricky conditions at the Losail International Circuit on Friday made it difficult for most drivers to keep their cars within the white lines.
Free practice caught several drivers out as they went off the track, but there was no room for error in qualifying. Sergio Perez, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were the biggest losers in qualifying as they had important lap times deleted at crucial stages of the session.
Perez’s deleted lap time meant that he dropped out of Q2 as he exceeded track limits at Turn five. The same corner caught Norris out twice, but it was on his final attempt in Q3 at Turn 10 that ultimately cost the Brit a spot on the front row.
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Piastri thought he had capitalised on his team-mate’s mistake, but he too was penalised for exceeding track limits at Turn 14. In total, 22 lap times were deleted throughout the session with Norris, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz penalised three times each.
Piastri, Alex Albon, Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly all had two lap times deleted while Kevin Magnussen, Liam Lawson, Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg and Perez were penalised once each. That meant only Fernando Alonso, Verstappen, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Guanyu Zhou, Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant were the only drivers to keep their cars within the white lines.
It’s far from the first time track limits have been under the microscope from race stewards this season as a staggering 47 lap times were deleted at qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix. Verstappen felt the whole saga made the drivers “look like amateurs” and appeared to call on the FIA to be more lenient on penalising drivers for pushing the limits.
“I think today looked very silly,” Verstappen said back in June. “It almost looked like we were amateurs out there, the amount lap times that were getting deleted.
“And also some of them were so marginal, where even we spoke about it in the briefing before, when it’s very marginal, it’s impossible to judge if it’s out or in. They were still getting deleted. I don’t think it was a good look today.
“Of course people can say ‘yeah, well, then you stay within the white lines.’ Well if it was that easy, then you can take my car and try, but probably you won’t even get up to speed in time.”