Verstappen was facing just a 5-second penalty at Bahrain GP

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Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing speaks with third placed qualifier Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing speaks with third placed qualifier Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1

Max Verstappen would have been punished by up to five seconds if he didn't let Lewis Hamilton pass him in Bahrain, according to Formula 1 steward Emanuele Pirro.

In the closing stages of the season-opener both Verstappen Hamilton played their parts in a scintillating fight for victory, once which Hamilton emerged victorious to start his pursuit of an eighth World Championship with victory.

It was not without controversy though as Verstappen was forced to hand the lead back to Hamilton after breaching track limits to pass him at Turn 4. Hamilton meanwhile had been warned for persistently abusing track limits at that corner throughout the race.

"It was clear that both in the practice sessions and in qualifying, the driver who would come off the track at turn four would lose his lap time. That happened several times to several drivers," Pirro told Corriere dello Sport, as quoted by RacingNews365.com.

"Hamilton went over the track limits a little too often, creating a repeated advantage. That's why [FIA race director Michael] Masi, the only one with the authority to talk to the teams, called Mercedes to warn them that if Hamilton did it more often he would get the black and white flag. That could eventually result in a punishment."

And so, when it came to the Verstappen overtake on Hamilton, Pirro said the rules were clear.

"There can be no misunderstanding there, according to the sporting regulations paragraph 27.3 it is very clear: You cannot make an overtake where you go over the track limits.

"Verstappen did, although he didn't do it on purpose, he simply went a bit wide. At that point Masi warned Red Bull and advised that Verstappen could give his position back.

"A race director will never oblige anything, because he is not allowed to, he can only suggest it. Verstappen gave the spot back and so we no longer had to deal with the case specifically."

Verstappen at the time told Red Bull over the radio that he should have just kept the position, feeling he could easily have built up a five-second gap to negate the penalty that he expected would come his way as a result.

And if the Dutchman had gone down that route, then Pirro confirmed "he would always have been punished by up to 5 seconds".

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