An ambulance on track, Spa, World Endurance Championship, 2024

Why stewards rejected Ferrari’s protest over “questionable” Spa Six Hours restart

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Ferrari’s protest over the restart of Saturday’s Six Hours of Spa was thrown out on a technicality.

The team’s cars were running first and second when the race was red-flagged due to a huge crash which launched Earl Bamber’s Cadillac into a barrier at Kemmel. He and WRT BMW’s Sean Gelael emerged from the crash unscathed but the clean-up and repair operation took around one and three-quarter hours, pushing the race close to its Six Hour duration.

However race control took the decision to restart the race for the majority of the remaining race time. It therefore ended almost eight hours after it started.

By then Ferrari’s cars had slipped to third and fourth, and victory went to the Jota Porsche of Callum Ilott and Will Stevens. “We consider the decision to extend the race beyond six hours questionable,” said Ferrari’s head of endurance race cars Ferdinando Cannizzo. “We feel a lot of regret because we believe the outcome should have been different.”

James Calado (GBR) / Alessandro Pier Guidi (ITA) / Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) #51 AF Corse Ferrari 499, Spa, 2024
Ferrari looked set for a one-two during the stoppage
Ferrari lodged a protest against the stewards’ decision to resume the race “for a period of one hour and 44 minutes.” The stewards cited article 14.3.1 of the sporting regulations for this decision, which states they “may take the decision to stop and/or modify the race time set,” which “may not exceed the time of the competition.”

Did Ferrari have a point? The race winners’ time – 5hr 57’31.542 – did not exceed the upper limit specified for this event.

However they believed the time spent under the red flags should have been included in the overall race time, as is commonplace in F1.

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“At 6.55 pm, the restart was announced,” the team noted. “However, this included the recovery of the one hour and 44 minutes of suspension rather than just the five minutes remaining until the natural end of the event.

The barrier repairs took almost two hours
“At the restart, Ferrari number 51 first had to make an emergency stop, followed by a final pit stop, like its ‘sister’ car number 50. In the finale, despite the Italian drivers’ excellent lap times, they could not overtake Porsches number 12 and six, which finished first and second, respectively. These Porsches had made their fourth pit stop before the suspension.”

WEC’s rules on race durations work differently to those seen in other series like F1. While the maximum time limit is the same for every grand prix, WEC events can have different durations.

F1 also sets a limit for how far a race can be extended after a stoppage. This is why, for example, the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix was stopped after just 28 laps of 53 – not because conditions worsened, but because of F1’s three-hour time limit on racing.

But Ferrari’s protest was ultimately rejected not over the issue of whether the race should have been restarted for the full remaining duration, but on a more technical matter. The stewards noted: “A stewards’ decision can not be the subject of a protest under article 13.2.1 of FIA International Sporting Code.”

This clause lists what teams may bring protests against. It includes the provisional classification, which Ferrari also protested, but not stewards’ decisions.

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Even had this not been the case, a further clause was available to the WEC stewards to justify their decision to ensure the race ran its full intended duration. Article 1.2.2 of the sporting regulations states: “No competitor, driver or participant may demand the literal application of these regulations if its behaviour is deemed contrary to good sportsmanship and fair competition.”

It’s easy to understand Ferrari’s displeasure at losing a one-two-result which they appeared to have secured for two hours. But ensuring the race reached its intended duration of six hours was arguably the best option available to ensure a “fair competition.”

However as with all such decisions it will bring with it the expectation that it will set a future for how future decisions are handled.

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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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6 comments on “Why stewards rejected Ferrari’s protest over “questionable” Spa Six Hours restart”

  1. This could backfire massively. Imagine the 24 Hours of Le Mans turning out to be the 26 Hours of Le Mans because of a 2 hour long red flag in the middle of the night… That’d put so much effort on every individual involved: marshalls, stewards, drivers, mechanics…

    1. Good point. Can be even more.

    2. RandomMallard
      14th May 2024, 10:15

      @fer-no65 I find this unlikely to be honest, as Le Mans has never had a red flag during the race (as far as I’m aware), and the ACO are quite proud of this, and seem unlikely to want to change it soon to be honest.

      1. RandomMallard, whilst qualifying and free practice sessions have been red flagged, it does seem that the ACO have generally tried to avoid red flagging the 24 Hours of Le Mans, even in the event of fatal accidents – for example, the 2013 race continued under a safety car despite Allan Simonsen’s fatal crash in the opening laps of the race.

        However, it is notable that other sportscar races have not been extended in length to compensate for a red flag, such as the 2022 1000 Miles of Sebring. To that end, one of the drivers of the winning LMGT3 entry (Yasser Shahin) said that he believed the red flag meant the race was effectively over, given that’s what they have done in the past, and he was originally looking for an early flight home before the decision was made to lengthen the race.

  2. Then that proves Ferrari’s point. If Le Mans never throws a red flag, that means they keep the duration of the event to the original schedule, which they didn’t at Spa.

  3. No competitor, driver or participant may demand the literal application of these regulations if its behaviour is deemed contrary to good sportsmanship and fair competition.

    That feels like a recipe for arbitrary race direction and stewarding if there ever was one.

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