Sebastian Vettel hit with grid penalty at Austrian Grand Prix for impeding Carlos Sainz

SPIELBERG, Austria -- Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place grid penalty at the Austrian Grand Prix, dropping him from third to sixth on Sunday's grid.

Vettel was penalised for blocking Renault's Carlos Sainz on the exit of Turn 1 during the second stage of qualifying, even though both drivers progressed through to the top-ten shootout. The grid drop was combined with a single penalty point on Vettel's superlicence, bringing his total to six over a 12 month period (12 results in a race ban).

The stewards explained the decision in a statement issued to the press.

"The Stewards reviewed the video evidence, team radio and heard from the driver of car 5 (Sebastian Vettel), the driver of car 55 (Carlos Sainz) and team representatives. Car 5 had just finished a push lap and was on an in lap, travelling quite slowly into and around turn 1, on the racing line. The driver conceded that he had passed car 55 between turns 7 and 8 but assumed it had pitted after.

"However, car 55 was actually commencing a push lap and closed on car 5 rapidly along the pit straight and into turn 1. During evidence, the driver of car 55 stated that he felt the driver of car 5 was completely unaware of his approach. This was confirmed by the driver of car 5 who stated he was unable to see car 55 in his mirrors and that his team had not informed him of its approach, by radio. The latter was confirmed by the team representative.

"It is the belief of the Stewards that notwithstanding the absence of a radio call, the driver of car 5, being aware of the issue of rear vision with his mirrors, should not have been so slow and on the racing line, during a slowdown lap in Qualification.

"Having reviewed all alleged impeding incidents since the beginning of 2016, the penalty of a drop of 3 grid positions is consistent with all other similar incidents.

"All Competitors are reminded of their right to appeal certain decisions of the Stewards, as set out in the International Sporting Code and related regulations, including the time limits for such appeals."

Vettel apologised to Sainz after the session and admitted he wasn't aware of the Renault's position on track.

"I mean I passed him on my fast lap in Turn 7, 8, and then I was looking down the main straight, I didn't see him, I was turning into Turn 1, and trying again because I was thinking he was somewhere, I don't know if he was pitting or starting his lap, but as it turned out obviously he was trying to go for a fast lap but I didn't see him.

"I think, yeah... I wasn't told on the radio so I apologise to him, there was no intention. I was looking, as I said, down the straight and then I turned around Turn 1 I was done with my lap and just wanted to make sure. Then when I was looking there was again nothing to see after Turn 1, which obviously was clear, because I saw the replay and we were side by side."

The penalty moves Vettel behind Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean on the grid, who all move up one place.