Nico Hulkenberg has been demoted from second on the grid to fifth at the Canadian Grand Prix for a red flag infringement in qualifying, avoiding a much harsher penalty.

Oscar Piastri’s crash in Q3 brought out the red flag just as Hulkenberg had completed a lap to go second fastest at the time, and the weather conditions then deteriorated to prevent any other drivers from improving. However, Hulkenberg was then found to have been traveling too quickly under the red flag conditions as he returned to the pits and was handed a three-place grid penalty by the stewards, when normal protocol would have been for 10 spots.

“The driver had just finished his fastest lap and had started another push lap,” the decision explained. “He was at Turn 1 when the red flag was displayed, however at that point he was already 1.5s over his delta time. He claimed this 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. Comparison of telemetry with that of Car 31 showed that in general for the rest of the lap he was approximately the same speed as Car 31 which complied with the delta times in each mini-sector. We regard this as a mitigating circumstance.

“However, 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. 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.”

Hulkenberg is not the only driver receiving a penalty after qualifying, with three others losing positions. Carlos Sainz was first to get a three-place drop for impeding Pierre Gasly in Q1, before Yuki Tsunoda was given the same penalty for getting in Hulkenberg’s way at the hairpin in the same segment of qualifying.

That penalty drops Tsunoda from 16th on the grid to 19th — promoting Gasly, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant — although the AlphaTauri driver did escape punishment for an incident with Charles Leclerc.

Lance Stroll was due to start 13th but was then found guilty of impeding Esteban Ocon in Q2. Stroll admitted he had known of Ocon’s positioning but felt he couldn’t safely move off the racing line because his slick tires were cold and the rest of the track was wet. The stewards also handed out a three-place grid penalty that means Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas and Gasly again gain spots.