The red flag rule change which may prevent teams “bickering” after Azerbaijan

2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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The strange spectacle of Formula 1 cars lining up for a standing start ahead of a two-lap race in Azerbaijan prompted much discussion.

As the cars sat in the pit lane during the red flag period caused by Max Verstappen’s crash, just three laps of the race remained. For any restart, a further tour of the circuit would be needed to get them back to the start-finish area, so just two laps of racing were available.

When the top three finishers were asked what they thought of performing a standing restart for just two laps of racing, third-place Pierre Gasly jokingly quipped: “The Americans took over so I wasn’t really surprised that we go first with the entertainment.

“No, I was quite happy,” he continued. “It always brings a bit more excitement. It creates some sort of adrenalin inside you. I knew there would be some opportunities because you start only for two laps, everybody is a bit like lions out of the cage and everybody goes for everything and tries to make up as many positions as they can in a very short time.”

F1’s rules mean a restart was always likely to happen. The days of races being abandoned if they were red-flagged after 75% distance, or using ‘aggregate times’ of two separate races to decide the final result, are long behind us. The latter hasn’t happened since the rain-hit 1994 Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s crash led to red flag in Baku
Although this area of the rulebook was rewritten long ago, the expectation races may not be allowed to go the distance in some circumstances has lingered, even though it now seldom happens. These days it takes exceptional circumstances – such as Jules Bianchi’s terrible crash at Suzuka in 2014, or the monumental downpour at Sepang in 2009 – for a race to be abandoned.

Whether the tyre failures Verstappen and Lance Stroll had suffered were grounds to consider not restarting the race is a matter Pirelli’s investigation should address. As far as the rules were concerned, as Formula 1 race director Michael Masi pointed out, there were no grounds not to resume Sunday’s race.

“Thankfully, for a number of years now, we’ve had the race suspension regulations,” he explained. “With the race suspension elements, yes there is an option to not restart, but within the timeframe and within the format of the regulations, we can restart and there was no reason not to.”

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Second restart, Mugello, 2020
Standing restarts have become more common in Formula 1
If the decision to restart the race caught some viewers by surprise, the same did not apply for the teams. Even Red Bull, who had the most to gain from not restarting the race, saw the decision coming. The team’s sporting director Jonathan Wheatley was heard making the case to Masi during the race broadcast: “Consider a red flag and the opportunity to change tyres,” he said.

But the decision to red flag a race and then restart it so close to the end created a significant precedent for future occasions where the Safety Car is running with a handful of laps remaining. In such a situation, teams now have reason to expect race control will consider red-flagging the race in order to conclude it ‘under green’.

Masi admitted Sunday’s race was red-flagged for this very reason. “We weren’t confident that the recovery on the pit straight and the amount of debris that was everywhere could be cleaned up in the appropriate time,” he said. “So I thought it was in the best interests of the sport to suspend and then restart in that circumstance.”

In any future races where the Safety Car is deployed near the end, virtually every team which isn’t leading the race will be lobbying Masi to throw a red flag, as Jacques Villeneuve explained in an interview for RaceFans this week.

Takuma Sato, RLL, Indycar, Indianapolis 500, 2020
Last year’s Indy 500 ended under caution
“Ultimately, with the restart at the end, there’s an issue with that red flag because it’s random,” he said. “So if you want to give a red flag at the end of the race then it should be in the rules that if it’s under caution with three laps to go, there will be a red flag. So it’s not ‘one race yes’, ‘one race no’.

“Because then teams will complain that, ‘oh, you helped that team that one time, but not us the other time’. So I think there has to be a fixed rule. It’s either there is no red flag or there is one with three laps to go.

“That way it’s always the same and there’s no bickering afterwards.”

Appropriately enough, one American series gives a good illustration of why this rules change may be worth considering. In IndyCar, last year’s Indianapolis 500 ended ‘under caution’, to the dismay of several drivers who expected it to be restarted, as previous editions had been in similar circumstances.

As red flag restarts have become more commonplace in Formula 1, this scope for inconsistency could easily be a flashpoint for controversy if it is not addressed.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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53 comments on “The red flag rule change which may prevent teams “bickering” after Azerbaijan”

  1. I don’t think doing a standing restart with two competitive laps to go was worth the risk of additional crashes and damage. Imagine if Hamilton had been further down the field. I’ve pointed out a few times the handful of cons extra standing starts bring versus a rolling one that used to be the standard 100% of the time.

    1. I know that you hate the post red flag restarts, but I think they’re here to stay until, at the very least, we see some sort of serious accident on a restart. Like many other aspects of F1 today, I’m afraid you’ll just have to get used to it.

      I’m don’t mind them in general, but I’m very much not a fan of an artificial 5 lap or less sprint race as we had on Sunday, so to expect that more frequently is disappointing.

      1. I absolutely love/loved the red-flag restarts. But I am also American…. so I fit the stereotype a bit too well here.

        1. Azerbaijan 2021 could have been red-flagged quicker so that the standing restart has more laps.

          1. I agree with this. Seems like they hadn’t really planned for such an eventuality and made a snap decision

          2. It should have been red flagged immediately after Verstappen’s crash, and also for Stroll’s.

      2. You make it sound as though someone in Race Control hit a button which blew Verstappen’s rear tyre.

        There was nothing artificial about the restart and race ending. I’d argue it was probably the most pure and honest part of the whole race after the original start.

    2. I love them.

      Sorry to get all Brundle, but “they’re the best drivers in the world, let ’em get on with it!”. There’s nothing more of a damp squib than finishing under a safety car, it’s just plain dull.

      The point of racing is to go racing.

      1. Indeed. Stop whining.

      2. Finishing behind the safety car is not racing.

      3. Exactly what he said, very well!!!

        +1 to “Dave” – red flag should have been shown before Max’s car came to rest, particularly where it is and the extent/area of the debris.
        Was formerly a track marshal for many decades, incl. a number of F1s. With the calibre of Race Control officials, this really should NOT be rocket science.

        1. +1 to you too bud :)

    3. @Jere
      Or imagine if Hamilton hadn’t have that mishap, overtook Checo for the lead (as he was about to) and went on to win the race?
      What will RBR, Checo and Max’s fans have said? Surely it’d have been something like “FIA rigged the race in favour of the Mercs and Hamilton!!! Scandalous…!

  2. Unless my memory is already failing me, I thought the motivation for the red flag was because two cars had high speed tyres failures. Max had left debris on the road next to the pits. But a safety car could have just led the field through the pits running the laps down until the end.

    1. @emu55 That is what most people thought the red flag was for. But Masi has since said that it was so they could finish under green. In my opinion the race should have been red flagged after both incidents, and do think the decision to stop it after the second was the right decision considering the fact that everyone went past the crash sight at almost full throttle before the SC came out, and the risk of anyone else’s tire going. But Masi’s reasons for it are slightly concerning.

      1. Gavin Campbell
        10th June 2021, 20:01

        But it’s a false assumption really – Masi decided to throw the Red because there were so few laps to go.

        If he hadn’t of thrown the red flag it would of finished under safety car so the tyre concerns were more than likely irrelevant.

        I feel a red flag with 5 laps to go but with a rolling restart is a fairer way to go but I think it’s a better option than to run behind the safety car to the finish or even worse hastily try and clear up an accident to try and go green.

      2. @randommallard if there have been two major tyre failures that seemed to have occurred due to no apparent reason, does it not also raise the question of whether the race should have been restarted at all?

        Reply moderated
    2. @emu55 “Could” but shouldn’t. There was no reason to not red flag the race as soon as Verstappen crashed (and Stroll for that matter).

    3. With the extent of the debris area if I were Masi would not be confident the area did NOT include that where the cars were preparing to enter the pits. Thus 100% red flag so all cars return to the pits under reduced speed and have ALL cars replace their tyres.
      At that point in time we were unaware how bad Checo’s RB was so, to us, that was irrelevant.

  3. “So if you want to give a red flag at the end of the race then it should be in the rules that if it’s under caution with three laps to go, there will be a red flag.

    I quite like that idea because it seems more consistent. However, there might be some difficulties with this that he is overlooking.

    What about unlapping?
    What if it’s raining so hard that a rolling restart is required?
    What if the restart causes absurder safetycars?

    1. *another safetycar

    2. @stijner

      Unlappibng would probably follow the normal red flag procedure of go out a little bit beforehand to gain that lap back.

      If it is raining hard then they are still allowed to use a rolling restart, as seen in Imola.

      If it causes further safety cars, then I guess the argument would be “well we gave racing a chance”

      I do generally agree with Villeneuve though. However, it may end up being that they choose a distance limit, e.g. 15km just out of the blue, instead of laps, because 3 laps of Spa is not going to be the same as 3 laps of Monaco. Although that raises further issues come to think of it.

  4. I’m certainly completely wrong, but I can’t help but feel Red Bull’s call for a red flag was not for the reasons they claim.

    I don’t know the exact timing of their message relative to when it was broadcast on TV, but I do wonder if they got on the radio to request a red flag really quickly, in the hope the race would not be restarted. As with the lap count back rule Verstappen would’ve still been considered in 1st place if the red flag had come out straight away AND the race was not restarted.

    Anyway, conspiracy theory over.

    1. I thought it was because they were indeed worried about Perez’ tires. But after he finished it was obvious they had a potentially race ending issue on his car. For sure it was also because of this. Nothing conspiracy theoryish about it I suppose. They just do everything to maximize results.

    2. @cdavman Yeah I can see what you mean. But as Keith points out Red Bull did have the most to lose if the race was restarted. And for about 4 seconds between the lights going out and Hamilton locking up, it did look like they would have lost it. I do think that they called for it for tire related reasons though, and other drivers, such as Russel, felt that they should have red flagged it after the first incident due to the debris.

    3. @cdavman asking for new tires does not seem to fit your narrative.
      And as the article stated they already expected a standing restart.
      Zo back to anon and other delusional story’s

      1. @erikje yes you’re right, it would’ve fit my narrative much better if they’d said “oh Mr Masi sir, do you mind awfully red flagging this race immediately and not restarting so Max can still win?”, but alas they did not.

        A team/ driver doesn’t always say what they mean. I refer you to the “My tyres are dead Bono” statement we hear all the time.

        Regardless, I finished by saying conspiracy theory over, meaning it was just that.

  5. We know now that Perez’s car was close to retiring.
    I’m going to put my tinfoil hat on and claim that Red Bull wanted the race red-flagged in order to assess Perez’s car and situation.

    1. Markus Winkelhock
      10th June 2021, 13:37

      Why would they do that? Finishing under yellow would’ve been the ideal option for Red Bull as it would minimise the chance of a retirement for Perez.

      Reply moderated
      1. Not if he is so busy managing the car that he fails to notice the initial signs of his own tyre failing (which can still happen under Safety Car, albeit a slow puncture is more likely than the instant failures we saw under green)…

    2. F1MadFan1970 (@)
      10th June 2021, 16:55

      Sounds correct the other reason was countback and hopefully the race being abandoned

  6. The red flag rule change which may prevent teams “bickering” after Azerbaijan

    The non clickbait title being:

    Villeneuve suggests red flag rules change to prevent teams “bickering” after Azerbaijan

    Reply moderated
  7. Martin Elliott
    10th June 2021, 14:03

    Yet again FIA demonstrates its lack of a modern safety management system that is fit for purpose.

    Whatever the reasons, another knee-jerk reaction rule/guidance change for a limited set of circumstances.

    When they sat down an re-wrote the rules around flags/VSC/SC/RF and ending racing did they consider as many circumstances that could be imagined and then the risk of occurrence. Or did they just list the obvious/recent ones?

    Did they really compare the benefits against drawbacks for safety as well as commercial spectacle?

    Not for the first time they have not, and when challenged react with further new benefits which should have been in the original identification exercise & analysis!

    Maybe they should read global legislation on Major Hazard Activities which started 40 years ago, (and often reviewed and revised!) as well as the ways industrial management complies.

  8. I was pretty surprised that they just did not let the race finish behind the safety car on Sunday. That’s what I was expecting. I also to be honest don’t trust almost anything Red Bull do. I they were on the radio almost immediately. I think they may have thought the debris was dangerous but they were more concerned about the issue with Perez’s car which meant they might have come away with nothing.

    I do think having a distance to the end rule, under red flag conditions, would be a sensible idea. Then it would be clear what would happen.

  9. I think F1 are going to find that red flagging the race with a small number of laps to go, while may add to excitement, is also going to cause even more controversy. The old saying is that cautions breed cautions. And race restarts could very easily lead to big crashes as the field is all bunched together and fighting like crazy for position at the very end of the race. If they are looking at North American racing series for inspiration on what to do in these cases they will see that they get away with throwing late race red flags because they have refueling. F1 does not have refueling and so if they throw a red flag with a limited number of laps remaining, restart the race and there is another big incident which leads to yellows or another red, they will at some point find they have to end the race that way out of necessity because the cars just don’t have the fuel to finish the race under green flags without refueling.

    1. @g-funk there would be no extra laps as a result of the red flags. The in laps back to the pits and the out lap back to the grid would still count as racing laps, so in theory they should need no extra fuel. And they would also theoretically use less fuel on these laps as they are going much slower under the SC/back to the grid.

      1. @g-funk Having re-read your comment it appears I misunderstood the scenario you’re describing. In the case you mention, I expect the response would be “at least we gave racing a chance” if they needed to deploy another SC/red flag.

  10. It’s a SHOW..standing restarts are much more entertaining than following the safety car!!! You should NOT worry about their cost. You pay for this entertainment to SKY. Unless you like to watch a safety car for a few laps on your telly. ?!

    Reply moderated
  11. whatever it is it will be an interesting season this year. The next 4-5 races will show if mercedes will recover and will be champions, or the fight will be on.

  12. In 2019 Bahrain, Leclerc’s podium was saved by the two stranded Renaults near the end of the race. Following this reasoning, it too should have been red flagged to have a few competititve laps left.

    1. In Bahrain in 2019 (and 2020 on that note) the SC was called ever so slightly later than on Sunday, so by the point the race could have been red flagged, there would only have been 1 lap left when they left the pits, which would have been the formation lap back to the grid, at which point the race ends.

      Anyway I don’t think this reasoning was in place back then anyway.

    2. Different incidents.
      The track wasn’t covered in debris, for starters. Tyres were ‘randomly’ failing either.

  13. I’m just not keen on the end of a race been decided by the sort of lottery you get from a standing restart at such a late phase.

    On a circuit where more marbles, dust & debris collect off the racing line during a race or where one half of the track simply has less grip later in a race meaning that half the grid are going to get a worse restart simply isn’t a fair thing to do so late in a race when there is no time to recover.

    It’s supposed to be a grand prix & not a short dozen lap sprint.

  14. I really dislike the word ‘lottery’ when applied to a race start or restart. As though the driver’s skill and performance isn’t a factor.
    On the contrary, a race start can be one of the best opportunities for the driver to make a real difference.

  15. F1MadFan1970 (@)
    10th June 2021, 16:51

    Funny how it was Red Bull that asked for the red flag hoping for the race to be abandoned so Max could win on countback. Didn’t work.

    1. @mikejohnherbert Where in this quote do you get asking for the race to be abandoned from?

      Consider a red flag and the opportunity to change tyres

      I won’t deny that there is a possibility, but crucially Red Bull said just before that sentence that they received no warning of the blow out as their reasoning for this, and the FIA receives the same telemetry, so I doubt Red Bull would consider lying over that if Australia 2009 is precedent.

      You are right in that Red Bull had the a lot to gain from a red flag and abandonment. But they also had a lot to lose, and for about 4 seconds from the lights going out to Hamilton locking up it looked like they had lost it.

      1. F1MadFan1970 (@)
        10th June 2021, 17:48

        The pundits said that on Sky when somebody from RB radioed Masi.

  16. This was great. More restarts the better.

    If anything every safety car restart should feature a standing start.

  17. Even in the days of aggregate races and 75% completion, there was always an approach in Race Control that a race should happen if possible, and as much of the race as possible should happen if not. One could argue that the 1991 Australian Grand Prix should have been declared a total washout instead of officially happening for 14 laps. The tendency was so well-known that both Jordan and Minardi planned specifically for Race Control to push Brazil 2003 out to the 75% mark whether conditions were fit for it or not (The Minardis stalled before they could benefit, one Jordan got suspension failure… …and the other one won partly based on using that assumption).

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