Unravelling the mayhem in Malaysia

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Who finished where? Are we restarting? Confusion reigned at Malaysia
Who finished where? Are we restarting? Confusion reigned at Malaysia

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

50 comments on “Unravelling the mayhem in Malaysia”

  1. What are the odds that the race next year will look exactly like this one?
    Seeing 50min of a race each year will not make the GP any good.

  2. Well as a F1 fan in the southern Hemisphere, who has to set my alarm clock for the vast majority of races, I can only hope my northern compatriots enjoyed their extra few hours of sleep in order to see a farcical event. Twilight races may become to mean more about the waning credibility of a certain someone and his association, than a reference to time

    1. nope, I favour GP’s should be started 1pm local time. I just think it’s rude, more than anything else, for hosting GPs to pay for the priveledge to bend over.

    2. I tottaly agree with you. I am in Europe and having a race start at 11am is no better than a race at 9 or even 7am.
      I would much rather have a earlier race as I then still have time to do something else that day.
      Bernie, the race does not need to start as close as possible to 2pm CET

    3. But the early TV ratings for Britain support the argument for a later start: BBC F1 TV ratings for first two races of 2009

    4. Cameron, there’s nothing to do with north and south to the hour, it’s more a east/west thing :)

      and don’t blame us, I prefer getting up early in the morning than getting night races.

  3. Were the TV commentary teams covering for Bernie, perchance? By claiming the 2-hours rule they saved him face, in that the casual fans might not find out about the “twilight” (sic. — cf dusk) controversy.

    1. My mistake — dusk comes after twilight. The Malaysian GP would be a (pre-?)sunset race, since it is scheduled to finish before sunset (7:20 pm)

    2. I wondered about that too. In fairness to the commentators, it seemed that some of the teams were under the wrong impression as well–I seem to recall the world feed broadcasting a Williams transmission to Rosberg saying something to the effect of “Although we haven’t heard that they won’t start the race again, if they do, given the required 10 minute warning, there would be only two minutes left on the clock. Two minutes, Nico.” Unless Williams were covering for Bernie as well… ;-)

      I can report that the Speed commentary team in the US seemed to get it wrong too, although it didn’t seem to be a cover-up (and I wouldn’t suspect it of them given that they’re constantly taking cracks at the FIA and Bernie, and the world feed producers as well, if they’re not showing what they should). They seemed to be under the impression that there was a distinction between “suspending” a race and “stopping” it, and that the time on a suspension of the race wouldn’t be added on to the two-hour clock, but that the race clock would be stopped under a “stoppage.” Not sure where they got that idea…

    3. I think they fudged the distinction between “we’re stopping early because of the two-hour rule” and “we’re stopping early because it’s obviously never going to be light enough or dry enough to get started again”.

  4. What is the logic behind taking the results from the penultimate lap and not from the last completed lap?

    1. I’d guess it is to account for the response time between the accident / unsafe condition developing, and the decision to stop the race. Assuming the decision is taken swiftly enough, the end of the penultimate lap should be before the accident, but the ultimate lap might be completed after the accident has taken place.

    2. I think part of the idea is to stop drivers from putting their foot to the floor in dangerous conditions in the expectation that the race will be stopped.

  5. Something that really annoys me…

    Are we (Americans) nothing to F1? There are loads (and i really mean it) of fans that wake up anytime to watch the race. America is not just USA, Canada and Brazil. Argentineans love motorsports, so we follow F1.

    Why the ONLY reason why they change the start time for the race is “because Europeans can watch it confortably”

    I honestly HATE that…

    1. Bernie says he wants to expand out of Europe, yet he then changes times to be convenient for only Euro TV audiences.

    2. I agree with you, dont get me wrong, i’m used to get up pretty early to watch the european races, I’m from venezuela and normally races start at 7am or 8am, so.. this spectacle of malaysia cost me wacht it at 4:30am and just 50 minutes of racing.. Bernie is trashing north and south america, any crazy move or idea just to satisfy europeans

  6. This whole issue about adjusting the times for European audiences, I don’t buy it. Take the BPL/World Cup/Champions League broadcasts for example, Asia has its biggest audience, and we’re subject to matches in the wee hours of the morning. Typical weekend kickoffs start at 11, late kick offs at 1 am, while mid week games between 3 and 4 am, we all still watch them, the whole continent does.

    So why does F1 have to be any different? I stay awake till 1 in morning on a Sunday night to watch races on the American continent, I dont have a problem with it. When I was living in the UK, I used to love waking up at 3 and 5 for the races in Melbourne and Sepang.

    Its a global sport, it would be unfair to the sport and fans if times were adjusted. Real fans would forego sleep for sport…its a fact!

    Take a good look at yourself Bernie!

  7. Being there for 3 days from the morning till evening the weather was bad in the later part of afternoons till evening. When rain came it came hard. Had a really good view of the track, was able to see parts of sector 2 and most of sector 3 (turns 7 – 15). Videos and pictures can be brightened up, but seeing the dimness with your naked eye is totally different.
    Half an hour through the race the track was shrouded with thick black clouds. One could not see the cars clearly and just imagine what the drivers saw. They were already slowing down so much, like preserving the full wets and waiting for the downpour which happen a little later, by then those on full wets had too much graining. Oh, not forgetting the lightnings streaking behind turn 14 during the Formula BMW race. Rain came, rivers and lakes were formed, even if drivers had balls they will be idiots to continue. My conclusion is Bernie needs to collect his money by faking viewership for non hardcores as many true hardcores has left F1.
    Mark my words, there will be a revolution this year. Consolation, the race before rain came was great though. Half a memory to treasure, lol.

  8. Mouse Nightshirt
    7th April 2009, 3:29

    With all the confusion this season, if the starting time is the same in 2010, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Damon Hill had won the race!

  9. FORMULA ONE NEEDS A NEW ORGANISING BODY NOW!!!!!!!!!!

    save us from this stupidity

  10. Now i am an original european (sorta anyway) now living in america who thinks that this european rule bernie has thought up is crazy. I’m originally from united kingdom.
    As i have said in a previous post, i do not think that thee will be that many europeans that would mind getting up earlier for the race as we used to do before. So there is no need for the twilight races. And the night time races are just a novelty.

    Please will somebody bring back sanity to the formula one circus.

  11. MacademiaNut
    7th April 2009, 4:58

    It is perfectly understandable for F1 fans to wake up at early morning; or keep oneself awake into the wee hours of the night to watch a race that’s overseas. That’s just part of being an F1 fan and liking the sport. I remember days when we used to stay up late night for cricket matches and world cup soccer.

    What the hell is wrong with having the european folks waking up a bit early to watch the race? Is 4.00 AM in the morning early? cmon.. give it a rest.

    Bernie and FIA has the game figured out completely wrong. He should be taking advantage of the fans of the game. The fans will wake up at whatever time you show the game; just for the sake of the game. If the fans watch, the advertisers will come. Bernie and FIA should learn to understand and respect fans! Afterall, it’s the fans that keep any sport alive.

  12. Well I believe the confusion over the final classification arose mainly because, had the race continued, the drivers would have maintained their respective positions, however, since the red flag condition effectively became permanent, then they had to use the final lap completed before the flag.

    This also is a problem sometimes, alonso caused a race stoppage in Brazil once, effectively out of the race, he still was classified 3rd. It makes it possible for a driver to win a race even if he has crashed out.

    1. Lucky chap, isn’t he? First podium would not have happened without his crash; his first victory back with Renault (Singapore 2008) was because his team mate crashed.

  13. Do the teams, broadcasters, race stewards, etc. not have a policy analyst who can advise on the FIA regulations immediately? I can do it!

  14. I Agree with Oliver, I believe for a car to be classified at all, it should still be running at the end of the race, not parked up somewhere.

  15. This is a very good post Keith, the guys who are calling the shots at these races should really be on top of this, not least because it would allow someone to question the results, and we could see yet another race, perhaps at a more crucial stage of the championship, where such a question could be of benefit to a team….

    1. Thanks but do give credit to Duncan, who wrote it!

    2. Yes, good analysis Duncan.

  16. Did I understand correctly, as I heard it, the cars sat on the grid for an hour before the call to abandon the race came? Is this right?
    If so, why did the decision take so long to make? Surely the FIA weather-watchers would be able to predict how long the rain would last, and make their decision from that.
    If this is how the FIA are now making their decisions, why should the teams even bother listening to them. Even here in the UK, if it rains enough during a BTCC or a Club race, the stewards will stop the race and end it there and then, not have everyone hanging about on the track!
    Sorry, but I missed the race completely, and only caught the highlights….

    1. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect them to be expert weather men – remember how many conflicting reports we got from the teams about when the rain was going to arrive.

      In these circumstances some degree of confusion is inevitable. But the mix-up over the rules really was a bit daft.

    2. Apparently the nature of rain at Sepang means it is very difficult to predict. It doesn’t come in from somewhere. It appears and disappears. So it’s not quite the same as looking at a radar and predicting when the rain will come.

      This is probably a key reason why the teams had conflicting reports and why Ferrari made such a huge mistake with Raikkonen’s tyre stop. Even though they all have the same weather systems, they all read it differently. Even then, it wouldn’t be the first time Météo-France have let the teams down.

  17. Bernie is a genius. He knew there would be problems with “twilight” races and now he can go to the race organisers in a stronger position to negotiate the night races he wanted all along.

  18. So Keith does your comment about tv ratings mean you are in favour of the later race starts?

    1. Definitely not as late as we had here!

      I think the case for ‘twilight’ starts is getting harder to make – people are increasingly used to time-shifting their TV-watching, so if casual fans won’t watch a race that’s on at 5am they will watch it when it suits them on a PVR or something similar.

      In the case of Australia, the later start seemed to cause a lot of inconvenience and extra costs for the race promoters. They’re already under huge pressure to pay Ecclestone’s gigantic fees. I don’t think it’s sensible to increase their burden.

  19. I just think F1 has far, far, far too many rules, and it only has itself to blame for having so many. The whole rulebook needs to be purged and thinned out.

  20. You’d think DC would recall Brazil 2003… he was sure to win that race were it not for Alonso ignoring a yellow flag (without punishment) and causing the red flag, yet scoring more points than DC ended up with.

  21. I hate to be critical but this article is little more than the author letting the world know he knows the rules of F1 better than anyone else… perhaps a pertinent point to have made would have been that the way the rules are written is confusing. The rules say the clock does not stop, but any time under a red flag is added onto the 2 hours. This is exactly the same effectively as the clock stops but the first half of the rule is mentioned before and separately from the second. Hence the silly confusion.

  22. Maybe this race was a worthwhile event if it effectively shows the stupidity of the organisers and helps to ensure that Mosely is not re-elected and Berine is ignored more often.

  23. Bigbadderboom
    7th April 2009, 13:10

    @SimonRS Not sure you read the same article as me.

    Good Article Duncan, post event what this illustrates is that most F1 fans were asking themselves “whats going on” When Brundle commented that the race clock should still be running I made a phone call to my brother (a fellow f1 fanatic) and we agreed that the race limit is 2 hours not including any periods during which the race is stopped. That is why we thought it so unusual that Bernie chose to run the race so late!

    What F1 needs is a “go to team” which should be present at all races to answer team or broadcast enquiries because being confused and looking a bit daft is one thing, but broadcasting it across the world is another, F1 is supposed to be the epitome of professionalism, at the moment it looks like they have’nt got a professional bone between them. Bernie should trademark “Carry on formula one” ;)

    1. Thanks Bigbadderboom. For me, it is important that F1 has clear and simple rules. When you think about it, the main reason why there are so many political scandals and last-minute changes of the race result is because the rules are made too complicated, and as such there are too many grey areas. I do mention in the article that FOTA should get to work on simplifying the rules.

  24. Actually I thought that Lewis being demoted from 5th to 7th in the post-race-results-adjustment phase of the race, was pretty good going for him, regardless of the specific implementation of the rules that led to it.

    After all, it’s rather better than he usually does. He didn’t even pick up a DQ, a 25-second post-race penalty or anything – and as far as I know the undisputed world penalty magnet is not even under investigation for anything related to Malaysia. He might even finish 2009 with positive points.

    On a slightly more serious note (but only slightly), perhaps the TV networks might look to add the post-race-results-adjustment phase of each event to its scheduled coverage. For some years now we’ve been stuck with practice, qualifying and the race, but of course the PRRA portion of each event has been turning out to be the most important period in many cases. Maybe another hour of air time would suffice, we could have overhead gantry shots of men in suits, on-suit cameras, the sponsors could start putting up banners on the walls of the stewards’ offices (more advertising space for Bernie to sell) and Alan Donnelly could sign some multi-million dollar sponsorship deals and become a household name. In time, we might even phase out that wretched driving around in circles bit.

  25. Thank you DVR I can not stay up till 2am to watch a race. But I get up around 6am and then watch it before the rest of my racing starts.

  26. Off topic. Keith should really be on the McLaren “indictment” of McLaren about to be laid down at the WMSC. From what I read, and from the circumstances, I forsee another exclusion from the WCC and a massive fine. Basically, it says McLaren “procured” Hamilton “the current World Champion” to perform list of scandalous delicts. This would result in Lewis flying the coop. With no Dennis around, **** car, and a poor management, I see the wheels coming off very fast. Look to Heidfeld, Webber, or even Raikkonen being dislodged, possibly before the end of the year.

  27. Eddie Jordan’s statement that the race is taken from the last complete lap before the race is completed is correct; the wording Article 43.2 got changed in 2005 from “the penultimate lap before the signal was given” to “when the leading car last crossed the line before the signal was given”. As a result, he is correct, though this is the first time we have seen the effect of this regulation change in a final results. Assuming the race result was counted that way rather than the obsolete way.

    The matter of the two-hour rule is confused by Article 41.4, which states that while a race is suspended, neither the race nor the timekeeping will stop. This is obviously in contradiction to Article 5.3 of the same document and probably contributed to the general confusion.

    1. Ah, thanks for the correction Alianora. I hadn’t realised that rule had changed. How confusing! Good on Eddie Jordan, then, for being on top of it.

  28. On the subject of rules

    What’s the point (no pun intended) of only awarding half points for a red-flagged race?

    Seems a bit stupid to me

    1. I think it’s just in recognition of the fact that the race was significantly shorter than it should have been. It’s one thing to be leading 60% of the way through the race, it’s quite another to see the chequered flag at 100% race length.

  29. Nice post. I was equally gobsmacked at the lack of knowledge shown be the entire BBC team; esp. Martin B! We all make mistakes I guess, but they had 50 minutes+ to check the rule book!

    Ah well, I enjoyed the race all the same! Having said that, here’s hoping to a complete race in China :)

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