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Is a Red Flag more Viable than a Late Safety Car?

Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by Simran Kanthi

Credit: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

There has been a lot of debate in the aftermath of the Italian Grand Prix, with Max Verstappen taking victory as the race concluded under the Safety Car. People can be forgiven for their frustration at how the late Safety Car period panned out, plus the length of time it took for Daniel Ricciardo’s stricken McLaren to be removed from the side of the track.

But are fairly widespread calls for a Red Flag instead of a Safety Car for incidents this late in a race justified?

It must be said, from the outside at least, wins do seem more legitimate when the race finishes under green flag conditions (though in this instance, Verstappen was bound to win by a considerable margin anyway and the victory was more than warranted). After all, the drivers are in the business to race, so points raised that everything should be done to try and finish races under a green flag are valid.

Unfortunately, the integrity of the sport is paramount with the entertainment factor rightly having to come second. The purpose of red flagging races is to allow repairs to barriers and for larger incidents that have produced significant debris that needs to be cleared.

Red flagging a race just because it is in its latter stages wouldn't make sense, and doing this rather than deploying the Safety Car would be inconsistent at any other point in a race. The harsh reality for fans is that consistency in terms of the regulations is hugely significant, and throwing a Red Flag in the final stages of a race would purely be to artificially develop the spectacle for those watching.

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Deciding to throw a Red Flag for any late incident would often be unfair to the leader of the race. For a more 'minor' incident, at any other stage in the race, there would routinely be a period where they follow the Safety Car with no overtaking. Hence, the leader would feel aggrieved, and rightly so, if they instead had to face the lottery of a restart following a Red Flag - especially if a standing start was the decision taken.

While it may feel boring to end races under a Safety Car from a spectator's perspective, making decisions in a manner that aligns itself with sporting integrity should be the priority. At the end of the day, Formula 1 is a sport with drivers competing for sporting success and not merely to put on a show.

For fans that may have been outraged at the fact that there was no racing beyond the Safety Car period at Monza, at least one consolation is that the proceedings were dealt with in an assured manner in terms of abiding by the rulebook. While the Safety Car procedure proved slightly chaotic from an organisation standpoint and removing Ricciardo's car took longer than was ideal, it was at least proven that there are clear rules that were adhered to.

Looking back at the season finale in Abu Dhabi last year, the dealings were a mess. Now, there is definitely a realisation that races should be ended under a Safety Car, if necessary. Additionally, there is certainly less of a frantic rush to complete the procedure of letting cars unlap themselves.

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Finishing behind the Safety Car at Monza may have left the Tifosi feeling aggrieved, given that Charles Leclerc was poised to attack Verstappen if racing got underway once again. But, all in all, there was nothing controversial about the way the situation was dealt with.

After all, this was the 13th race in history to finish behind the Safety Car, so it isn't as though it is an alien prospect. Red flagging the race, which is reserved for larger incidents, would have been more contentious.

Not everyone is going to be pleased by a decision at any one time - that's the nature of the sport. The takeaway is that the situation was dealt with in a way that puts the sport first instead of making it artificial and purely for entertainment.

1 comment

1 Comment

Sep 15, 2022

Archie - good analysis. Of course what everyone wants to see is a race to the flag but very late restarts are just a lottery, whether that is by the safety coming in with one or two laps to go, or a late red flag and the grid restart. In the US of course you have the phrase 'cautions breed cautions' - if you go back a bit to some 90s CART races then honestly the number of times they would try and restart was comical because they would wave them green then immediately someone would 'Divebomb' (see what I did there 😉) in the pack and immediately its a caution period again.

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