Nico Hulkenberg has lost his front row start in Formula 1’s Canadian Grand Prix after receiving a three-place grid penalty for a red flag violation in qualifying.
Hulkenberg set the second fastest time in Montreal Q3 on Saturday as the drivers in the pole shootout only got one real chance to set a competitive lap in increasingly wet conditions.
The Haas driver crossed the line fractionally before race control red-flagged the session because Oscar Piastri crashed his McLaren.
🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
Piastri loses it at Turn 8 and hits the barrier
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 17, 2023
That meant Hulkenberg’s lap counted, but he was summoned to the stewards for allegedly breaching the rules around the delta time drivers must adhere to when there is a red flag.
Hulkenberg’s radio communication with his race engineer during his in-lap made it clear he had a confusion with his delta time and Hulkenberg thought he was going too slowly.
He was quickly told he needed to slow down but later on the in-lap Hulkenberg questioned his speed once more and was emphatically told he was in fact going too quickly and, again, that he needed to slow down.
That was investigated by the stewards after the session and Hulkenberg was hit with a three-place grid penalty.
It reflects the same penalty Daniel Ricciardo was given at the 2018 Australian Grand Prix for the same offence, when he admitted to misreading his dash, but Hulkenberg could have received a 10-place drop had the stewards not factored in specific circumstances.
The stewards report indicated that Hulkenberg was already 1.5 seconds over his delta time when the red flag was deployed which Hulkenberg claimed “made it extremely difficult for him to come below the delta in the next sector”.
“He also admitted to confusion about the beep signal in his headset, and therefore at one stage thought he was going too slow,” the stewards continued.
The rest of the lap complied with the delta times in each mini-sector, which the stewards accepted as a mitigating circumstance, but they said “the regulation is very clear and whilst there is no question of the driver acting dangerously or driving unsafely, there was a breach and thus a penalty has to be imposed”.
“The normal penalty for failure to slow under red flags is 10 grid positions; however in view of the mitigating circumstance, a lower penalty is appropriate,” the stewards’ report read.
“We note the intention of the regulation is to ensure a car is not speeding during a red flag situation and there is no evidence that the speed was excessive in this case.”
Though losing a front row start is disappointing for Hulkenberg, starting from fifth still represents his best grid position of the season and Haas’s second-best after Kevin Magnussen’s fourth in Miami.
He had already identified Sunday’s race as a challenge even to remain in the points.
Speaking immediately after qualifying, when he thought he would be starting second, Hulkenberg said: “Obviously, we’ve qualified out of position for a normal, dry running.
“Yesterday was tricky. I didn’t really get much dry running.
“Whatever happens tomorrow we’ll just take the moment now, enjoy it and fight hard and do what we can tomorrow.”
Hulkenberg was involved in another incident that resulted in a penalty in qualifying – Yuki Tsunoda has been handed a three-place grid drop of his own for impeding Hulkenberg in Q1.
Tsunoda went wide at the hairpin and blocked Hulkenberg after rejoining, which the stewards said should have been avoided given Tsunoda lost so much time running wide his lap was approximately three seconds slower.
Tsunoda failed to progress from Q1 anyway and had only qualified 16th.
Lance Stroll, who qualified 13th, was also given a three-place penalty for blocking Esteban Ocon.