Verstappen has been hit with a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s inaugural Qatar Grand Prix after he was found guilty of failing to respect yellow flags that were waved at the end of Q3 for Pierre Gasly’s stricken AlphaTauri. 

But Red Bull team principal Horner says he does not understand the verdict and criticised a “rouge marshal” for waving a yellow flag despite not being instructed to by the FIA. 

“We’re really struggling to understand it, because it looks just a complete balls-up,” Horner told Sky. 

“The FIA have effectively said play on, the circuit is safe and clear. Max was in the first sector, so he had so much time to look at it and the dash, everything is indicating… Otherwise we would have informed him. 

“But unfortunately there’s a yellow flag. He just didn’t see it. He even saw a green light on the right-hand side.

“I think it’s just a rouge marshal that’s stuck a flag out and he’s not been instructed to by the FIA,” he added. They’ve got to have control of their marshals. 

“It’s as simple as that, because that’s a crucial blow in this world championship for us. We’re now starting P7 at a track you can’t overtake at, that is massive.”

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Despite the setback to Verstappen’s championship fight against Lewis Hamilton, Horner said there is “absolutely no point” appealing the decision. 

Horner also hit out at the decision not to penalise Carlos Sainz after the Ferrari driver backed out of his final run when he came across the yellows, while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was given a three-place grid drop. 

“What’s frustrating is that the race director has said, ‘it’s fine’ get on with it, it’s a safe track, finish your laps,” Horner continued. "Effectively by turning off the yellows, all the signals that we have say the track is safe. 

“Even the slippery surface is gone. So there’s nothing to communicate to the driver. DRS was re-enabled. 

“The other one I really don’t understand is Carlos Sainz, he’s done exactly the same thing, he hasn’t seen it, he’s driven straight past, gone past with his DRS open, fully planted and he’s lifted about 10 metres before the line and that’s OK.” 

Asked if he felt Verstappen should have simply had his lap time deleted rather than a grid penalty, Horner said: “I think there needs to be some grown-ups making grown-up decisions. 

“If somebody sticks a yellow flag out… it’s just frustrating and I think race control should have control for the circuit. He’s the referee at the end of the day.”