Should the Italian Grand Prix have finished behind the Safety Car?

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The Italian Grand Prix was won by Max Verstappen as the final six laps of the race were completed under Safety Car conditions.

The race was neutralised after Daniel Ricciardo pulled off to the inside of the track between the two Lesmo corners on lap 47, prompting local yellow flags. When it became clear his McLaren could not be wheeled away, and a vehicle was needed to move it off the track, the Safety Car was deployed by FIA race director Niels Wittich on lap 48.

All drivers in the top four positions pitted for soft tyres under the Safety Car at the end of lap 48, retaining their places. George Russell emerged from the pit lane and was behind the Safety Car, despite being in third place. Russell was told he could pass the Safety Car, but did not have the green light to do so and remained behind. He stayed behind the Safety Car for almost three laps.

On lap 51 – with less than three laps remaining – Ricciardo’s McLaren was still in the process of being cleared by a crane driven out onto the circuit. After passing the recovery vehicle, the race director allowed lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car, which moved Verstappen to the front of the queue. However, there remained two lapped cars – Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda – between the leader and the Charles Leclerc in second place.

As the leaders passed through the Lesmos behind the Safety Car on lap 52 – the penultimate lap – Ricciardo’s car had now been cleared off the track. The pack of ten cars between Russell in third to Mick Schumacher in 12th were around half a lap from catching the back of the queue. However, at that time, teams were informed that the race would not restart for the final racing lap.

Race start, Monza, 2022
Gallery: 2022 Italian Grand Prix in pictures
The Safety Car completed the 53rd and final lap before pulling into the pit lane as per procedure, with Verstappen crossing the finish line under Safety Car conditions to take the chequered flag.

The decision to end the race behind the Safety Car was criticised by multiple teams. Despite his driver winning the race, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky that there had been “more than enough time” to have resumed the race before the final lap. Leclerc also protested the decision in the cockpit of his Ferrari, labelling the call as “a joke”.

“Yeah, it’s a joke. It’s a joke. It’s a big joke,” Leclerc said over team radio. “Look, the track was cleared, come on. We are in Formula 1, what are we doing?”

But was the decision to end the race under Safety Car conditions the correct one?

For

In the FIA’s sporting regulations for Formula 1, there is no article which demands that races must finish under green flag racing conditions. Races are permitted to finish behind the Safety Car, with a procedure that outlines what should happen if the Safety Car is out on track on the final lap of the race.

There are many examples of precedent for this. Multiple races have finished behind the Safety Car in recent years, including the Chinese Grand Prix in 2015 and the Bahrain Grands Prix in both 2019 and 2020.

As a grand prix is a distance-dependent race that runs to a set distance, if the final 20 kilometres of a race happen to take place under Safety Car conditions, that is no different to the same happening earlier on. Safety Cars can occur on any and every lap of a race and treating the final laps of the race any differently the the ones proceeding it risks the integrity of a race.

Against

Given that all racing positions are frozen under Safety Car conditions, having the final six laps completed with no racing allowed effectively means the race distance has been reduced by that same amount.

In order for the race distance to be respected, there is an argument that all efforts should be made to ensure that races can and should finish under green flag conditions when reasonably possible. This is certainly the case for many racing series around the world, particularly in North America, including IndyCar and NASCAR, that make regular efforts to ensure races finish ‘under green’.

There is also the recent history of races being red flagged in order to provide more time for racing finishes. Most recently, the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was suspended under a red flag with to allow Verstappen’s crashed car to be recovered with four laps remaining. Once it was cleared, the race resumed with two racing laps.

I say

Whether you believe the Italian Grand Prix or any grand prix should never be allowed to finish under a Safety Car comes down to how strongly you feel that Safety Cars are an acceptable means for a race to end. As fans, surely we want to see green flag finishes wherever possible, even if they are only for one lap?

Many would argue that stopping races in order to guarantee a racing finish is artificial and puts ‘the show’ before the organic competition. However, as fans of Formula 1 and fans of racing, why would any motorsport fan not want to see a race finish under racing conditions if possible? A simple case of throwing a red flag to pause the competition, allow incidents to be cleared safely with no unnecessary rush for workers, then resume with at least one final racing lap to determine the result does not feel all that unreasonable – especially when even the race winning driver admitted it was a shame that the race did not resume, despite him not having to defend his lead for a tense final lap.

While there are naturally examples where the Safety Car must be deployed but it’s just too late for a red flag to be called – such as the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix – there was more than enough time for the race director to suspend proceedings with a red flag. The problem in this situation appears to have been the Safety Car picking up the driver in third, rather than the leader, but not addressing the mistake for multiple laps, effectively wasting time that would otherwise have allowed the race to resume.

It would be hard for anyone to deny that Verstappen was a deserving winner of the race having shown superior race pace throughout the 53 laps, but it is also a shame that drivers and fans alike were robbed of a chance to see the Italian Grand Prix won at racing speeds like it should have been.



You say

Was it the correct decision to end the Italian Grand Prix behind the Safety Car? And if not, how should it have been handled?

Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Do you agree it was correct to end the Italian Grand Prix behind the Safety Car?

  • Strongly agree (38%)
  • Slightly agree (16%)
  • Neither agree nor disagree (3%)
  • Slightly disagree (13%)
  • Strongly disagree (29%)
  • No opinion (1%)

Total Voters: 159

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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55 comments on “Should the Italian Grand Prix have finished behind the Safety Car?”

  1. If the stranded car isn’t cleared in time, ending under SC is the logical conclusion.

    We are racing to a predetermined distance, after all.

    1. The problem is that there was plenty of time to do the job, the race should have continued with 2 maybe 3 laps remaining.

      1. We have to remember the limits to the use of heavy machinery on the race track that are the result of Jules Bianchi’s accident and death.

        So there might have been time to get one last lap in, anything beyond that is wishful thinking as far as I’m concerned.

    2. Today’s Formula 1 Race finish in Italy was not thrilling or spectacular.

    3. The only think they could have done instead to give us some racing would have been to immediately throw a red flag (to allow for the inlap, the outlap, etc) and have the race restart from the grid after getting Daniels car out of the way @proesterchen.

      Not sure it was realistic though, since they would have first have to wait to find out it was stuck in gear and couldn’t be just pushed away, there was not much time to do it and give enough laps to make it work but it was probably possible.

      With the safetycar (why did it take 2 laps to even get the SC out there by the way?) just picking them up and having them all bunch up to get the tractor out there pretty much meant there was not enough time/enough laps left to get a solid race restart (even if they had not let the backmarkers unlap themselves, which would have meant the top guys did not get to race each other anyway)

  2. The rules are the rules. There was a heavy campaign last year into this year to stick to the letter of the rules and they did. Unfortunate way to end the race, but undoubtedly the correct way.

    Perhaps in the future the rules can be changed, as long as it isn’t a standing restart, I would be okay with a red flag without tire changes and car fixes and a belayed standard safety car restart, for instance. But ultimately, I think this ending was fine too. The podium was exactly what it would have been if there hadn’t been a Safety Car anyways.

    1. The rules should have some flexibility to prioritize racing. It’s called motor racing.

      1. Wrong. Rules should have no flexibility. You could have a firm rule that states that every race will finish with a green flag to start the last lap.

        1. So next time they can neutralise a race 10 laps after the start and take 3 hours to clear a car that was parked on the grass. After all there is no rule that dictates how much time you need to clear a car.

        2. If there’s an incident on the penultimate or the last lap, there is no way to resume racing without extending the distance, even if the race is red-flagged immediately.

          Apart from few circuits (Melbourne, Monaco, Montreal, Paul Ricard) where they could start from the lights and race would end within metres.

      2. “Its called motor racing”

        That sounds like another infamous Aussie…..

      3. @markwebber “It’s motor racing” is exactly why the rules should be followed. Without pre-agreed rules it’s not a race – it’s just a bunch of rich guys going around in circles. Motor racing is about fair competition, not about cars going vroom vroom.

    2. I agree that the rules should be respected, but personally I’d like to see a set of rules for cases like this.

      1. The decisions were made correctly. However. The speed those decisions were taking was far too long, five laps to move a car is too long. Two laps to decide that they needed a safety car is too long.

      2. You can’t possibly have a set of rules that cover EVERY possible scenario that could cause a safety car, and how to resume racing, the rules work “most” of the time!.

        And as much as the end of the race was anticlimactic, it felt better than the stomach wrenching that I felt watching Abu Dhabi last year, knowing the decisions being made were wrong!

  3. Correct. However, I am more worried about the time it took them to deploy the safety car. Rules over entertainment always.

    1. I am more worried about the time it took them to deploy the safety car

      Indeed @krichelle, that was really strange.

      It meant that instead of the field being bunched up to give the marshalls a minute or so to work around at it safely, they had constantly passing cars at VSC speeds for several laps.

      Maybe the SC driver was having a leak? It should be ready to go immediately.

  4. Six/seven/eight laps to remove a car parked on the side of the road. There is where the problem lies.
    Then, the right thing to do is to follow the rules.

    1. Yes, but it’s been like this for tens of years. They don’t let stewards on track without SC and the ‘lapped cars may overtake’ rules mean there are more, and more lengthy safety car periods.

      Anyways I really do not know what all the fuss is about. Not that is happens every week and not that it has not happened many times before. Still better than a red flag that means a waiting period of at least half an hour.

      1. @f1mre I couldn’t agree more with you.

      2. @f1mre Indeed – I wonder why finishing under the SC is such a hot topic now, when we’ve had many races (and indeed a championship) finish like this without all this debate…

        (For the select few who can’t read between the lines, it’s because of the rule breaking that occurred at Abu Dhabi, and the coalition of Reb Bull/Verstappen fans and Hamilton haters who are still deluding themselves that what happened was in any way acceptable.)

  5. It was both right and wrong. I believe there was a space to restart it for the last lap, had the race directory and Bernd Mayländer managed it better. However, I can’t be 100% sure since I don’t know all externalities, how far was Verstappen behind the safety car after his pitstop etc. But calling a red flag would be wrong and purely for the show. All of us fans want some racing at the end but if the race can’t be objectively restarted and there’s no significant hazard on track, we should respect the standard procedure.

  6. A race ending under a SC is never ideal but that’s just the way it goes sometimes & it’s not something I have an issue with TBH.

    I’m not a big fan of throwing red flags late on with a standing restart just to get a dozen lap shootout as I don’t like how that turns the end into a bit more of a lottery, Especially at a track like this where accidents on starts isn’t that uncommon. It’s a Grand Prix of 53 laps & not a 3-4 lap shootout.

    The purpose of a red flag just like the Safety Car & VSC is safety & these things should only ever be used when they are necessary from a safety perspective. There was no valid safety reason for a red flag at the end as the stopped car was easily recoverable under a SC. For me you don’t need & shouldn’t use a red flag unless there has been a major accident or if the track is blocked, Littered with debris or if a barrier has been damaged.

    Using the red flag or a safety car for that matter purely for ‘the show’ isn’t how they should be used.

    1. The purpose of a safety car is firstly as you say for safety. It is secondly to reset the race. Close gaps. “Make it exciting”.
      It also is completely unsporting and I struggle to think of any other sort that implements a rule to nullify or even reverse the winning person or teams advantage. Maybe something like “Let’s stop a marathon and make the runners do a 100metre sprint at the end???”
      Of course the obvious solution is a rolling staggered restart after a sc ends with an earliest time of arrival (delta time) the driver cannot exceed as is done with vsc.

      1. Pitting under SC/VSC and gaining an advantage by doing so is also not exactly fair. Autosport is like this. There is an element of unpredictability. I do not think this is necessarily bad. It’s just part of it. It does not happen all the time plus drivers and teams have to cope with these. We could also say that it’s not fair that you are held up by a lapped car, not fair to be held up by someone 2s per lap faster just because of higher straight line speed or lack of overtaking spots. Not fair that someone else crashes into me. Not fair that I slip on someone else’s oil patch…

        1. Yes totally agree re pitting under sc. Again there is a relatively easy solution to this, if you pit under sc you have a time added to your delta, eg today 21 sec pitlane loss plus stationary time in the pit. Add it on to the drivers earliest point of arrival on a sc restart as I described above.
          Of course in any sport random events can influence results but to have a fundamental rule to effectively restart a race with cars nose to tail at any stage as determined by race control is unsporting and unfair.
          If play is interrupted in golf or tennis eg by the weather, they don’t reset the scores to zero, do they?

  7. The rules were followed and the eace ended as it should have. That being said there is clearly a desire for more safety car periods as the marshalls are now woefully slow at removing cars and the large trackside cranes are pretty much a thing of the past.

  8. In football, some games are just pretty dull 0-0 draws. The ref isn’t trying to find ways to screw over the team with the most goals in order to artificially create an exciting ending.

    Some races will be a bit dull and then end under the safety car. Other races will be spectacular shows. Isn’t that just part of the sport?

    1. But when there is a stoppage they add time.

  9. They should just red flag the race for all incidents like it used to be before the safety car was invented. The natural flow of the race is already interrupted anyway with the abundance of VSC periods.

  10. Yes. It doesn’t matter if an incident occurs with 20 or 2 laps to go, it should as far as is possible be dealt with in the same way. If that means a race ends under a SC/VSC, so be it.

    I don’t particularly like the anticlimax of a Safety Car finish, but I prefer it to the idea of a rulebook full of various exceptions and fiddles to avoid ‘spoiling the show’. A red flag isn’t, and should not be, a tool of convenience.

  11. The decision was definitely correct in my opinion, it is too artificial to have standing starts with such little time remaining as they make the first part of the race far less important. I would be okay with late red flags if it was a rolling restart instead, as that would be no different to extending the race to make up for the lost laps behind the safety car.

  12. Of course it was.

    People hated what happened at Abu Dhabi, now they want it back???

    Would’ve been completely fake to red flag that race.

    1. You are right and…Red flag in this situation is not according the rules. We don’t want Abu Dhabi again, do we?

  13. We want races to be finished under green flag. Red flag Asap and restart.

  14. Father suggested that if might be worth considering a rule change where any safety car in the last 10 laps or so would automatically turn into a red flag, followed by a restart. Notably we’ve seen certain series over the big pond employing similar strategies to increase the chance of races ending under green.

  15. If its a 6-5 laps situation, redflag it. If its 2 laps then its pretty much over and ending under SC is the only scenario.

  16. The rules were followed and that is what I want to see. The Italian track crew screwed the home country team by not clearing the car quickly enough which is always the case at this track. The tracks in the Middle East seem to have the quicker track crews which Grojean can be thankful for.

  17. Why weren’t the remaining 4 lapped cars allowed to unlap? If Bottas etc could go through we’d have had leclerc behind max with 1 lap of racing to go.

  18. In this case, I voted for neither agree nor disagree, but generally, people shouldn’t make a massive fuss out of neutralized endings that are extremely rare anyway.
    Red over something small enough for SC or even VSC would be overkill, so definitely not for the sole purpose of avoiding a neutralized finish. Only ever for truly necessary instances.

  19. It wasn’t the right outcome for two reasons. First, Ricciardo should have parked his car at an exit in the barrier so it could have been much more easily retrieved. There are multiple such exits along the short straight between the Lesmo corners, and Ricciardo picked a very bad spot. That’s not what you’d expect from a highly experienced F1 driver. It would have allowed the car to be retrieved with either double yellow (preferred) or a quick VSC like Vettel’s was.

    Second, there seem to be no brakes on the safety car. Or more seriously; why does it have to lap around before seemingly coincidentally finding the leader of the race? Just park it in the middle of Turn 1 and wait for Verstappen to show up. In this way, even with the cars driving at reduced speeds, it should take no more than 2 minutes at an absolute maximum for the leader to be behind the safety car. Also, as Leclerc hinted at, the second the track is clear the safety car should come in. No extra laps are necessary (as the FIA confirmed last year).

    However, it was still better than calling a red flag for no reason other than ‘the show’.

    1. As Daniel mentioned, he was somewhat surprised there wasn’t an opening there himself too – took him some time to get off the track himself.

      But given that his engine just went without prior warning and pretty much immediately (he couldn’t even go to neutral anymore, everything was gone) he was happy to at least get to the side of the track before it stopped dead Michael, he had no chance to get to another place.

    2. No extra laps are necessary (as the FIA confirmed last year).

      The FIA confirmed no such thing, and the regulations still state that an extra lap is required.

  20. I really don’t like the “lapped cars may now overtake” aspect of SC restarts. Overtaking back markers used to be part of the skills needed to become a champion driver. I cannot see any justification for that rule apart from bunching up the leaders to try to artificially create some excitement.

  21. “there remained two lapped cars – Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda – between the leader and the Charles Leclerc in second place.”
    – these two again? Now that’s just suspicious..

    1. Ahah, indeed, I was also thinking: ricciardo stopped in the end, with a mercedes engine failure… it looked like the SC was gonna help mercedes at first! But they miscalculated and it didn’t end up restarting the race.

  22. It was definitely the right thing to do, but if there are less than so many laps remaining (4 laps, 5 minutes maybe?) the lapped cars should not be told to overtake and the race should be restarted immediately. If you are lapped you are way off the pace. Yes this may change how a couple points are awarded occasionally but I think it’s silly to wait around for lapped cars to unlap instead of continuing the race.

  23. Well this is quite a polarising poll! Whether the race finished under safety car or not doesn’t bother me too much. Obviously I’d prefer all races to end under green. The thing that bothered me was that cars were driving past the moving recovery vehicle. I think on safety grounds the race should have been red flagged the moment the marshals realised they couldn’t move Ricciardo’s car without assistance.

    1. @tommy-c It wasn’t unsafe though.

      The drivers knew where it was, were going slow behind the sc and it was well to the inside of the track where it was unlikanyone would hit it.

      You start throwing red flags every time a recovery vehicle is needed then we are going to see dozens of red flags over a season.

      Things like this can safety be handled with a safety car such as cars stopping near a gap in the wall can safely be handled by a virtual safety car.

      Red flags are only needed if there is a big accident orif barriers are damaged or debris all over the track or if its blocked by multiple crashed cars. It isn’t needed for situations like today, thats what the sc is for.

  24. Something i find hilarious is how everyone on sky was outraged by the race ending with a safety car and how they went on about how they spoke for all of the fans and how i watched a video on the race YouTube channel where they said similar about how all the fans were angry by it.

    However 95% of the comments in that video, on the sky twitter hashtag and on various ohher sites and platforms i have been on this evening seem to suggest most fans didn’t have an issue with it.

    Its clearly the liberty media show over sport mouth pieces trying to push an agenda most fans disagree with.

  25. A disappointing end, but the correct one. Sometimes races finish under SC, it happens. I hate arbitrary red flags just to cram in a green finish, which seems to be based on the idea that F1 fans have got nothing else to do on a Sunday. For those of us on a more easterly time zone, red flags usually mean half an hour less sleep before Monday.

    If anything I’d argue that F1 should simply do away with the “lapped cars may overtake” rule, as the whole procedure just makes the SC go 2 laps longer than it needs to. We almost certainly could’ve gotten a green finish without it.

  26. Just drop the lapped cars to the back of the grid instead of allowing them to pass the safety car.
    It would be much faster as they would not have to wait for the stopped car to be recovered to do it.
    If would also be fairer as they would not get a lap back for free.

  27. “Should the Italian Grand Prix have finished behind the Safety Car?”

    No, it absolutely should not have finished under SC.
    The race leader should have been picked up much sooner, the SC should have driven slower, the incident should have been cleared much faster – and even if they still couldn’t manage all of that, they should have stopped the race and restarted after it had been cleared.
    Racing is for racing. Not for limping home under non-competitive conditions in the most disappointing and deflating way possible.

    Makes me wonder if they did it on purpose just to show how different they are from last year.
    “Look, we can finish the race under SC, and so we will, just to make a point.”

  28. Under the current rules, yes

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