F1 Fanatic guest writer Duncan Stephen, who writes Vee8, reflects on the chaotic ending to Malaysian Grand Prix and how it was handled.
Before I write about the Malaysian Grand Prix, it is worth reflecting on the issues surrounding the curtailment of the race. I have no particular problem with a race being stopped if it can not safely continue. I even have no problem with half points being awarded, and in a way it’s amazing that F1 hasn’t had to resort to this since 1991.
But we have to say to Bernie, we told you so. Everyone saw the potential that we could have the sort of situation we saw in Malaysia. The race had to be stopped due to torrential rain. Then the rain had stopped, but the race could not reasonably be re-started because visibility was so poor simply because the sun was setting. Had it continued, the race would have ended in the dark, and that clearly poses an unacceptable safety risk.
Some have said that the problems would have happened even had the race started earlier in the day. Many pointed out that the GP2 race was similarly affected. But undoubtedly the situation wouldn’t have been so bad. Even a couple of hours earlier on in the day, the race could have been restarted on a drier track because it was still daytime.
Bernie Ecclestone stands by the late start time. It is true that it is more convenient for European viewers. The fact that British television ratings for the race were higher than they were last year – even when you take into account ITV’s re-run – appears to justify it in this sense. But it just didn’t feel like the Malaysian Grand Prix. And I would prefer there to be a full race with full points handed out any time. That is worth getting up a couple of hours early for.
The events surrounding the race stoppage and the restart brought into sharp focus just how complicated the regulations surrounding it are. As a viewer, I found it incredibly frustrating that no-one on the BBC’s team appeared to know the rules surrounding the two hour time limit. No doubt some of you will have seen just how annoyed I was getting if you follow the vee8 Twitter stream.
Martin Brundle quoted a specific part of the regulations which confirmed in his mind that there would not have been time to re-start the race because the two hour time limit would have passed. A more thorough reading of the rulebook reveals that article 5.3 of the Sporting Regulations (PDF) stipulates that the length of the suspension is added to the two hour time limit. In other words, even though the race clock keeps ticking, the clock for the two hour time limit is effectively stopped. Time spent while the race is suspended does not count towards the two hour time limit.
I was particularly disappointed that Martin Brundle was unaware of this, because he has commentated on a race which was affected in precisely this way just two years ago at the 2007 European Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso won the race with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and change, but the two hour time limit was not bothered a jot. I was surprised too that David Coulthard, a freshly retired driver, was unaware of this important part of the Sporting Regulations which directly affected a race in which he had recently taken part.
In fairness to the BBC, it is a complicated rule. I was totally unaware of it befoe the 2007 European Grand Prix, and I read up on it specifically because I was confused by the situation then. The person who does the live commentary for Formula1.com also got it wrong (no doubt he was hoping to go home early).
I was absolutely floored when a Williams engineer also revealed his ignorance of the rule of the team radio. After McLaren fouled up in Australia thanks to a leaky knowledge of the Sporting Regulations, you have to wonder what is going on with the teams. When even the teams don’t know the Sporting Regulations well enough, maybe it’s time for a root-and-branch simplification of the FIA’s regulations. That could be a good job for FOTA to do.
There was confusion, too, with the situation regarding which lap the official classification comes from when the race is stopped. This led to the farcical situation where the official classification changed before the world’s eyes with a flicker of the live timing screens. The commentators, it seems, had forgotten about the rule where the result is taken from the standings as they were on the penultimate complete lap (article 42.8 of the Sporting Regulations).
Matters were not helped by the fact that the live timing screens were showing blatantly incorrect information for the duration of the red flag period. Everyone with the exception of Jenson Button and Timo Glock were shown as having been lapped. The commentators appeared to take this at face value. But we know from experience not always to take the live timing screen at face value. All of those cars had not been lapped.
As far as I can tell, it was perhaps triggered by the cars being moved around on the grid while the race was suspended. As such, some cars’ transponders may have passed the timing beam, triggering the timing screens to show that Button and Glock had done an extra lap.
It wouldn’t be the first time a mistake of this nature has occurred. The 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was marred by a similar incident where the FIA took the results from the wrong lap. This robbed Giancarlo Fisichella’s Jordan of his rightful win, only for it to be reinstated behind closed doors a week later.
Eddie Jordan’s people were well on top of it at the time. Seemingly, the timing system automatically counted back the correct number of laps, only for the FIA officials to do it themselves again manually, meaning that the result was taken from a lap earlier than it should have been. Jordan saw what had happened, and appealed. He was successful, so it’s no surprise that he was the member of the BBC’s team that seemed to understand the situation more than the others. But even he incorrectly stated that the result is taken from the final complete lap, when in fact it is taken from the penultimate complete lap.
The confusion once again appeared to get the better of McLaren. Lewis Hamilton began his interviews in the belief that he had finished 5th. It was left to the BBC’s Lee McKenzie to break the bad news that he was actually seventh. The McLaren representative said to Hamilton that “we are still discussing [what the result is]”. The driver gave a look as if to say, “what have they done now?”
Perhaps McLaren were worried about which lap the FIA chose to classify the race on, just as Eddie Jordan was in Brazil 2003. But given the events of the last week, it’s no surprise that no-one has kicked up a fuss. Even so, I think the FIA got it right this time. The race was stopped on lap 33, meaning that the penultimate complete lap was lap 31, which is what the classification shows.
Yet again, though, the race result has been concluded in an unsatisfactory way. Jenson Button noted that he hasn’t won a race this year in green flag conditions. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but let us hope that we have a conventional finish in China, with a clean result decided on the racetrack.
More on the Malaysian Grand Prix