Max Verstappen handed five-place grid penalty at Qatar Grand Prix

Max Verstappen’s title charge took a blow as the Formula One championship leader was hit with a five-place grid penalty at the Qatar Grand Prix after ignoring yellow flags during Saturday’s qualifying session.

The Red Bull driver was set to start second on the grid alongside title-rival Lewis Hamilton, who stormed to the 102nd pole position of his career to gain the upper-hand for Mercedes in Doha.

Now reigning champion Hamilton has a chance to close the 14-point gap to Verstappen in the drivers’ championship with the Dutchman starting seventh at the Losail International Circuit.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner admits the decision is “massive” in the fight for the championship this season.

“We are struggling to understand it. There was a yellow flag, he (Verstappen) just didn’t see it,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“It’s a rogue marshall that stuck out a flag out. He wasn’t told to do so. This is a crucial blow in the world championship. It is massive.”

Verstappen drops back as a result of an incident at the end of qualifying, where a puncture for the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly caused confusion on track and he did not slow down sufficiently under double-waved yellow flags.

The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas – who qualified third – was hit with a similar punishment, only taking a three-place penalty as he failed to slow under single-waved yellows.

Carlos Sainz was also called to the stewards but no further action was taken after the stewards deemed the Ferrari driver did not have a case to answer.