Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2018

‘Unsatisfactory’ chequered flag error to be investigated amid safety concerns

2018 Canadian Grand Prix

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The FIA is conducting further investigations into why the chequered flag was shown too early during last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix amid concerns about the safety implications of the error.

Race winner Sebastian Vettel said he feared the early signal might trigger a track invasion by fans while cars were still at racing speeds.

Marshals also signalled to drivers that the race was over before the final lap was complete. FIA race director Charlie Whiting believes this was triggered by the early appearance of the chequered flag.

“Sometimes marshals wave all their flags to congratulate the winner, and some of them were doing that,” he said. “They thought the race had finished too because presumably they’d been told the chequered flag had been shown.

“But the fact that it was shown a lap early, they didn’t know that. We need to analyse exactly what happened there.”

The flag was waved early due to confusion between the starter and race control over what lap the leader was on. Whiting said circuits have different procedures to give notification when the chequered flag should be waved.

“It may need us to review procedures and make sure we have a very simple procedure for every circuit because all circuits are different. They all have different communication systems [and] networks. Sometimes it’s the clerk of course that waves the flag. They’re all different.

“We need to try to make sure that every time we have we have a countdown. This is what some circuits do, they say ‘leader’s in the third last lap, second last lap, this is the last lap, end of this lap’. Then they’ll [tell] the guy waving the flag where the leader is, they’ll say ‘next car’, that sort of thing. It wasn’t done that thoroughly here.”

“It seems to me that no one really knew and this is what we need to get to the bottom of,” he added. “It’s not satisfactory. Luckily it didn’t affect the result.”

The flag was waved by celebrity Winnie Harlow. However Whiting said the FIA is not considering a ban on using guests for this role. “The celebrity was not to blame so I don’t think that is anything that we need to consider, certainly not at the moment anyway,” he said.

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50 comments on “‘Unsatisfactory’ chequered flag error to be investigated amid safety concerns”

  1. Vettel fan 17 (@)
    12th June 2018, 11:27

    Basically they need to pay attention. The starter asked them if it was the final lap, you would think a person who has been here since time began or the other people who work there would know if the race was finished

    1. The drivers should also pay attention, the race is over with the chequered flag, even if it is lap 2. That has always been the rule, no need to keep racing.

  2. Sush meerkat
    12th June 2018, 11:27

    Who thought waving a flag could be so difficult?.

    1. Exactly my thoughts…billion dollar business has challenges waving the flag at the proper moment. Like we say in my home country: it would be comical if were not tragic…

    2. I guess they got bored.

  3. So if the flag is waved early then the drivers are classified based upon when the flag is waved. I wonder if there is any restriction on who has to wave the flag for that rule to hold? Imagine if militant Ferrari fans stormed the flag waving area at Brazil 2012 and waved the flag on a lap which would have given the championship to Alonso. Or even if the official person holding the flag feels like deciding who wins a world championship. I hate to think that a world championship or constructors championship could be influenced by such a rule.

    1. I wonder if there is any restriction on who has to wave the flag for that rule to hold?

      Drivers just look for the chequered flag being waved from the start/finish gantry, plus their own telemetry. If that flag is waved at an unexpected time, without any warning from the pitwall, then they are most likely to continue as-is (or cautiously, if not under threat of overtake) and radio back to clarify.

      Your other hypotheticals are quite extreme cases, and the risk/likelihood of them occurring is as low as any other acceptable risk that allows a race to proceed (e.g. a plane crashing into the circuit). The consequences of those risks materializing will be severe, and the FIA will come down hard on the circuit (if fans invade the gantry), or the motorsport organization of that country (if the official maliciously waves the flag to influence the outcome), which itself ensures that proper steps are taken to prevent such a thing from ever happening.

    2. @Sam If the chequered flag is waved early then the classification is based upon the previous lap, i.e., the last full lap the leader had completed before the flag had been waved, which in this case, meant that since it was waved at the end of the penultimate lap of the race (lap 69) the results were taken from lap 68. This same approach applies to cases in which a race ends earlier than scheduled due to a red flag like the 2009 Malaysian and 2014 Japanese GPs, for example.

      1. @jerejj Yes, that’s what he said, but then he asked about the implication of someone doing that on purpose to mess with the race result.

  4. I think Whiting should have red flagged the race immediately after the error. He put the lives of marshals at risk.

  5. For me the first obvious procedure is for the drivers to stop racing. They will be classified according to previous lap anyway and the most dangerous thing going around at an F1 race are F1 cars…

    Then why was the flagged waves too early, that’s a separate thing to be solved. Have the drivers (and the teams) know what to do and stop reading should be the priority as for red flags.

    1. For me the first obvious procedure is for the drivers to stop racing.

      @jeanrien – I’d say activate the VSC and close the pitlane exit*, the moment the error is realized. That should bring the cars into a much safer state. And both of those are something Charlie can do with a push of a button sitting where he is, without being dependent on staff provided by the circuit.

      *Closing the pitlane exit to ensure that no one tries any pit stop shenanigans under the VSC.

      1. @phylyp Good enough with VSC or red flag as long as it’s not racing.
        They should probably leave the pitlane open anyway, if the rule is known, nobody would pit under those circumstances except force majeure which is also why it should stay open.

        1. They should probably leave the pitlane open anyway

          @jeanrien – that’s why I said close the pitlane exit, not the entry. Cars can still drive into the pitlane to halt (or if they’re already there, can switch off) knowing the results will be from an earlier lap anyway. They just can’t leave the pit lane.

          1. Make sense but then red flag is the best option. Pit lights exit are automatically red in that case.

  6. Well done to Vettel for thinking of a way to make this into a safety issue. Now the rule will be changed before it actually messes up a race.
    Why has nobody suggested the most obvious solution: make the race end when the set number of laps are reached or the red flag is shown after 75% of laps are complete, with the waved chequer being entirely ceremonial.

    1. Because then the lead driver may see the early chequered flag, slow down and allow the second placed driver to overtake him and go on to win the race. You could argue that the lead driver should have ignored the chequered flag, but that’s not going to go down well with the fans of the lead driver.

      1. That’s a possibility, but Vettel clearly knew which lap he was on, and this error has happened three times in the last ten years.
        So the chances of a race of even a championship being ruined by someone throwing the chequered flag early are probably a lot higher than the situation you have described.

  7. But the incident should never really have happened. Fortunately, there were no changes in the points positions AFAIK, but there could have been and a legitimate pass ruled out because of someone else’s stupidity.

    I am against this whole business of celebrities waving flags. Why not leave it to the officials who know (or should, anyway) what they are doing?

    1. I am against this whole business of celebrities waving flags. Why not leave it to the officials who know (or should, anyway) what they are doing?

      @loup-garou – I don’t mind an older F1 local hero waving the flag or pushing the start button, they belong in the “been there done that” category and it would be a nice way to honour them.

      Sometimes, it is politically expedient to give away such an honour for something in return (e.g. a circuit negotiating with a local body over a tax break might call on the mayor of the city to do so). I’m not a big fan of this, but sometimes such is the cost of business.

      Other times like this, there might be an element of either honouring someone unrelated to F1, or trying to drum up some publicity, and it looks like this was such a case. Luckily (for her, remember there’s no such thing as bad publicity) this error has catapulted her into a brief moment of stardom, and many computers like mine will now have “Winnie Harlow” in their search history alongside “Y250 vortex” and “V10 engine sound” 🙂. I haven’t figured out why her caption during the race said “activist” either.

      That said, it is an FIA designated member (provided by the circuit) who either waves the flag, or instructs said celebrity to do so, and it is there that the communication has broken down. Even if she wasn’t there, it is more than likely the same error would have occurred, going my Charlie’s statements.

      1. Luckily (for her, remember there’s no such thing as bad publicity) this error has catapulted her into a brief moment of stardom, and many computers like mine will now have “Winnie Harlow” in their search history alongside “Y250 vortex” and “V10 engine sound” 🙂

        Ha, Ha! Maybe she did it on purpose to get that publicity? Looked carefully at the runners, decided that there wasn’t going to be a change in the next lap and waved away?

        1. @loup-garou ….then why would charlie lie?

          1. We are talking over Charlie who was to blame for this but doesn’t step down… So he is losing nothing.

    2. @loup-garou ”Fortunately, there were no changes in the points positions AFAIK, but there could have been and a legitimate pass ruled out because of someone else’s stupidity.”
      – Actually, there indeed was one legitimate pass that took place after the flag had been waved (Perez on Magnussen for P13), but fortunately, it wasn’t for a points-scoring position, so, therefore, no harm was done.

      1. so, therefore, no harm was done.

        @jerejj You never know. Come the end of the season the Championship might come down to the number of 13th-place finishes for them.

        1. @davidnotcoulthard Good point. I didn’t think of that. It indeed is possible that these two drivers would finish the season with an equal number of points and with the countback of 13th-place finishes coincidently being the decisive factor to determine their order in the final standings.

          1. At that point when we argue about 13th places lost, I’d be more angry if I were ricciardo, who might at some point in his career want to challenge for the fastest laps record and he just lost one (however unlikely that is since he said he doesn’t want to race till 40).

    3. @loup-garou The celebrity was told to wave the flag by an official. So how is it her fault?

  8. They should have a digital screen, this is 2018. Maybe have a digital character waving the flag on the screen adapted to whatever politcal correct/celebrity image/message if they must.

    Winnie being told to wave the flag at the wrong time whilst trying to brush her hair, with the expression she had no idea what it was all about, was not a good image.

    1. Winnie being told to wave the flag at the wrong time whilst trying to brush her hair, with the expression she had no idea what it was all about, was not a good image.

      @bigjoe – LOL, yeah, I too was chuckling at how she was sweeping her hair aside with as much energy as she was waving the flag. If I remember reading correctly, it was a circuit/FIA official who waved the flag correctly on lap 70 (after the mistake was made earlier), but then they gave the flag back to her again to wave so the TV cameras could show her waving the flag (for what purpose, I don’t know, since even the highlights would mention the flag being wrongly waved!).

  9. Well this is just about the seriousness with which the issue should be addressed. Good to see :)

  10. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    12th June 2018, 13:32

    It’s interesting that Charlie Whiting is questioning it as it’s part of race direction’s job to decide when the race starts and when the race ends. He should be the one that gives the go-ahead to wave the chequered flag.

    1. @freelittlebirds – it does make you wonder just what sort of rock-and-roll approach Charlie’s been following thus far, doesn’t it?

      1. @phylyp Just look at the driver briefings and it’s abundantly clear that he has no clue. I was shocked the first few times I saw those. How can the guy in charge have so little understanding of what actually goes on? And why is he (still) in charge?

        1. @patrickl
          He’s made a name for himself as part of the furniture. They’re scared to tell him even though he’s reached retirement age. Should have been sacked after the 2005 US GP.

  11. I know it wasn’t her fault directly, but zelebs have no place being anywhere near official actions at a racetrack. Also her weak attempt at flag waving just looked embarrassing.

    Let them mince around in the pits or on the grid as much as they want but that should be the limit.

  12. STOP using celebrities for the chequered flag! Done! Easy!!!! For the same reason they don’t put just anyone doing the race start. And if it’s no longer okay to have grid girls, let’s be consistent and not have chequered flag girls either!

    1. Just to clarify, not blaming Hamilton’s friend for the issue! This was totally on whoever decided it was okay to have non-qualified personnel for the chequered flag

    2. Does not matter who used the flag a celebrity, child or who ever. It was ordered by an official who is to blame.

    3. That’d be as effective as invading Indonesia with only the world’s heaviest and most powerful tanks and their crew.

  13. Maybe they let her drive the pace car next? What could go wrong (Detroit Indy??)….

  14. The person with the checkered flag was ordered to wave it. Who ever gave that order made a mistake. It happened before and it will happen again.

  15. The person that told to that woman to wave the flag was bored like all of us. His mistake was that he didn’t done that at the 75% of the race and everyone would had been super happy but instead we were sleeping the last half hour. .

  16. Is this the first time that this happened? I only remember Pele “forgetting” to wave the flag in Brazil once. He was too late rather than too early.

    1. @patricklIn China 2014 the flag also got waved too early.

      In Monaco 1970 it was waved too late – and this time there weren’t any celebrities or anything to use as a scapegoat

  17. From experience you should either have one or three ways to confirm something, you shouldn’t have two ways to confirm something because if one of the signals is wrong you may not know which one is wrong. So the person waving the flag should be given three ways to identify the race has finished. For example, there could have a lap down counter (presumably with 0 indicating the race leader is on the last lap), they could have a red, yellow, and green lights (presumably green meaning the race is still running), and a phone call / video call from the race director saying it’s time to wave the flag).
    Again, there’s no reason why the drivers too can’t have three ways to confirm the race will be over when they cross the Start – Finish Line … but what should they do if they see just one of the “Finish” indicators instead of three?

  18. Maybe they should’ve thrown the celebrity under the bus and blamed her for the mistake, since this shatters the image of F1 being a well oiled machine.
    It clearly was not her fault and by the accounts given, even without a celeb flag waiver, the mistake would have happened anyway. No where have I seen the “clerk de course” named — he’s the one to blame for not having a clue.

  19. Califormula1fan
    13th June 2018, 2:47

    I agree with comments above about red-flagging a race if by some action, either accidental or intentional, the checkered flag is shown too soon.

    I challenge anyone to name the person who waived the checkered flag at Shanghai this year from memory, without looking it up. Anyone commenting on the woman here in a negative way is one knuckle drag away from being a troll.

    I don’t care who waives the flag, as long as they do it when they are told. I would be far more worried if the person waiving the flag was solely responsible for deciding when it was time to call the race.

    In this case, she did what she was told to do so “Bravo!”

    The “three” thing, is a red-herring, it still leaves the ambiguity of what if all three are in disagreement?

    Charlie should have one person who counts the laps, to back-up the electronic telemetry that FIA has in place. When that person signals the last lap; an FIA official in the gantry either waives the flag, or instructs a guest proxy to waive it.

    Once the flag is shown, the race is over, drivers complete their current lap, and if there was a mistake in waving too early; classification is based on the penultimate lap.

    It sucks that occasionally errors may occur; but all drivers are subject to the same rules; and everyone ends the race in the safest possible way while maintaining a racing environment.

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