I mentioned the other day that I thought one way to improve racing in F1 would be to get rid of blue flags during races, which force cars that are about to be lapped to get out of the leaders’ way.
There were some strong opinions for and against the idea, so I thought it deserved an article of its own. Do you think blue flags should go? Read the arguments for and against below and cast your vote.
Should blue flags be banned in F1?
- No, not at all (38%)
- Not entirely - the rules should be relaxed (30%)
- Yes (31%)
Total Voters: 3,805
The FIA International Sporting Code gives an innocent enough explanation for the use of the blue flags:
The flag should normally be shown to a car about to be lapped and, when shown, the driver concerned must allow the following car to pass at the earliest opportunity.
Appendix H to the International Sporting Code, article 22.214.171.124 (d)
The interpretation of the rules applied in F1 makes life very easy for the leaders. Once the driver to be lapped has been shown a blue flag for the first time they must yield before passing two further blue flags. As marshal’s posts are quite close together, in practice this means pulling over almost immediately.
A better version of the rule
This is the toughest rule for lapped cars in any racing series I can think of. Watch an IndyCar race and you can see how well not having blue flags works. It keeps the leaders’ progress in check.
In F1 a leader passing a backmarker is mundane and uninteresting – in IndyCar the ability to work through traffic quickly is a vital skill the leader must possess. It also provokes strategy changes – a driver catching a bunch of three or four cars may opt to make an early pit stop.
Remember we’ve seen some of F1’s best ever passes when a leader hesitated behind a backmarker, allowing his pursuer to sweep past them both – think Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna at the Hungaroring in 1989.
There’s much discussion at the moment about why F1 often fails to produce exciting races and I think the blue flag rule plays a significant, but subtle, role.
At Bahrain we saw once again how F1 cars are incapable of following another one closely because of their sensitivity to the aerodynamic wake and hot exhaust gases of the leading car.
Designers optimise their cars to work best in clean air. But would that be the case if the front runners knew lapped cars weren’t going to scurry out of their path as soon as they catch them, and they might have to spend a lap or two finding a way past?
I suspect we would see them going to the grid with larger radiators and other changes to allow them to follow other cars more closely.
As far as encouraging closer and more entertaining racing goes, that’s the Holy Grail.
The Fontana problem
We all remember how Ferrari leant on Norberto Fontana, in his Ferrari-engined Sauber, to hold up Jacques Villeneuve during the 1997 title decider, and no-one wants to see such egregiously unsportsmanlike conduct.
Getting rid of the blue flag rule could allow that sort of thing to happen again.
Get rid of blue flags or keep them? It’s a ‘lesser of two evils’ call – and I’m broadly in favour of getting rid of them.
I can only think of a few similar incidents of the Fontana types. Repeats can be prevented with stern words in the drivers’ briefing and vigorous stewarding.
And if we’re going to talk about abuses arising from not having blue flags, we must acknowledge that having them isn’t foolproof either. On some occasions over-zealous marshals have forced drivers to yield positions when they shouldn’t have to.
The way I see it, F1 currently has an extreme interpretation of the blue flag rule which should be revised but not pushed to the opposite extreme. We do not want to see backmarkers aggressively defending their position from the race leaders.
I think there’s a lot to be gained from relaxing the blue flags rule. It would cause some complaints if it were changed tomorrow, but if it focuses people’s minds on how to make F1 cars follow each other more closely then that’s a good thing.
Made your mind up on blue flags? Cast your vote above and have your say in the comments below.
Read more: The Blue Flag Debate
Image (C) Lotus F1