FIA's Charlie Whiting clarifies chequered flag error

11/06/2018
NEWS STORY

The FIA's race director, Charlie Whiting, has explained the cause of the chequered flag being inadvertently waved before the end of the Canadian Grand Prix.

As Sebastian Vettel was approaching Turn 4 on the final lap of yesterday's Canadian Grand Prix, back at the finish line the chequered flag was already being enthusiastically waved by 'celebrity guest', the model Winnie Harlow.

While Vettel continued on his way, some drivers appeared to slow as they crossed the line, believing that the race was over, while others carried on, most notably the four drivers behind Vettel who were still battling for position.

In the aftermath, which saw a delay in the official results being issued, and no data shown on TV screens, under the regulations, the result of the race had to be backdated to the lap before the flag was waved so that instead of lasting 70 laps the result was declared at 68. If nothing else this meant that Daniel Ricciardo's last lap, which was the fastest of the race, was null and void, and that honour went to teammate Max Verstappen.

While initially the blame was laid at the feet of Ms Harlow, the FIA was keen to clarify that she herself was the victim of a miscommunication.

"The chequered flag was shown a lap early because there was a miscommunication between the start platform and the guy that they call the starter, the guy that starts and finishes the races," FIA race director Charlie Whiting told reporters. "He thought it was the last lap, he asked race control to confirm it and they confirmed it.

"They thought he was making a statement when in fact he was asking a question and he just showed it a lap early, it's as simple as that. In fact, he told the flag waver to wave it a lap early, so it wasn't anything to do with the fact it was a celebrity flag waver.

"It's gone back to Lap 68 because that's what the regulations require," he added. "The reason for doing that really is to make sure if there was some confusion over it then if you go back to the previous lap you will get a true race classification.

"It's like when a race is stopped and can't be restarted, you take it back prior to the lap where the red flag was given.

"We always do our best," he said, "but there's a lot of human beings, different countries, different languages, so it's not always absolutely perfect. We always strive for perfection but there was no real harm done insofar as it didn't impact the outcome of the race.

"People who don't work in F1 are sometimes a little confused by the little graphic they see on the television, where it says 69 out of 70. We all know we're on lap 69, but to someone who is a slightly more casual observer, they might think 'Oh, this must mean it's the last lap.' That's where the doubt originates and we need to do a better job briefing these people."

When it was explained that the starter should have actually known how to read the lap counter, Whiting admitted: "He read the timing screen correctly, that's why he asked the question. He wanted to have it confirmed. He thought he had had it confirmed, but it wasn't. He thought the guy saying OK from race control said, 'Yes, correct.' He asked a question, but the guy in race control just thought he was telling him that.

"I need to go deeper and deeper into this of course, but it seems no one really knew. This is what we need to get to the bottom of. It's not satisfactory. Luckily it didn't affect the result but it may need us to review procedures and make sure we have a very simple procedure for every circuit.

"They all have different communication systems, different communication networks. Sometimes it's the clerk of the course who waves the flag, they're all different. We need to make sure at every time we have a countdown. This is what some circuits will do, they'll say 'Leader's on his third last lap. Second last lap. This is the last lap.' Then they'll give the guy waving the flag points at where the leader is. They'll say, 'Next car,' that sort of thing. It wasn't done that thoroughly here."

Race winner Vettel subsequently explained that when he saw the flag being waved on the giant screens around the circuit, his first thought was those fans intending to run on to the track thinking the race was over.

"I was just worried," said the German, "I told them on the last lap, so people don't jump on the track, waving flags and celebrating, because we are still going at full pace.

"I even watched on TV and after I saw the chequered flag it said 'Final Lap', so then I was a bit confused. I told them that I think the race isn't over yet, and they said; 'no no no, keep pushing'. Some of the marshals were already celebrating - they peaked a bit early."

Check out our Sunday gallery from Montreal, here.

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Published: 11/06/2018
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