Written by Daniel Jones, Edited by Simran Kanthi
After the sun sets on yet another confusing and frustrating Grand Prix, marred by further perplex with the rulebook and a completely unnecessary accident, the Australian Grand Prix seemed to be yet another mess on behalf of Formula One and the FIA, as scrutiny not only on the organisations but key figures in the sport such as Stefano Domenicali further increase. The direction that Formula One is heading in is one of great concern, as suggested by the Australian Grand Prix, and Domenicali’s seeming desperation for viewership and money into the sport, instead of developing the sport's seventy-year history and traditions. But let’s break it down first of all, what was the problem in Australia?
The Australian Grand Prix had got off to an entertaining start, with the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton leapfrogging polesitter and championship leader Max Verstappen on the opening lap, putting the pressure on the Dutchman to provide a response. As the race would settle into its rhythm, the safety car would first appear on Lap 6, when the Williams of Alexander Albon found itself in the barrier at the Turn 6/7 chicane. The Williams had lost its front wing, with the barrier having a slight amount of damage, with gravel scattered over the track, but something that would not be considered a ‘major’ accident.
However, as has been the FIA’s desire in recent years, the Red Flag was pulled out for an incident that could have easily been solved under Safety Car conditions, an absolute nightmare for Russell, who had pitted under the Safety Car, and had now cycled down the order. And although drivers criticised the decision, little could be done, but being the opening affairs and exchanges of the race, its impact would be minimal, except for the standing start procedure, maybe an overexaggerated Red Flag, but it wouldn’t be considered extraordinary.
However, the red flag deployed after the retirement of Kevin Magnussen is to put it simply, a disgrace. The Dane parked up on the left-hand side of the Turn 4 left-hander in a parking spot familiar to many, including Magnussen himself at Albert Park. The Haas found itself stricken on Lap 52, and unsurprisingly, the safety car was pulled out in order to recover the Haas, which was parked in a dangerous position. This made sense, safety was always the first priority, and the priority was taking the Haas off the circuit.
But, the day inevitably came where the Red Flag was deployed for entertainment purposes, an embarrassment to F1, the FIA, the drivers, and the fans. Let me make this clear. The Red Flag is to be used in the most severe of circumstances. An accident or problem with such an impact on the race that the entire field has to be evacuated off the circuit in order to clear up the incident. Kevin Magnussen’s retirement was not an accident that required a Red Flag. It was a standard VSC/SC incident that has been commonly seen.
Yes, the field would have ended under Safety Car if it had continued around, but at least that upheld sporting integrity and the fair result. I cannot stress enough, the Red Flag is a safety procedure, not an entertainment tool. Yes, races that end under the Safety Car are disappointing, as shown by the reaction to the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, but sometimes that is the way that things pan out.
Yes, people will refer back to the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen’s late accident brought out the Red Flag with two laps to go. However, let’s not forget, the Red Flag was requested by Red Bull Racing’s Sporting Director Jonathan Wheatley, on the grounds that Verstappen’s tyre failure was not predicted on the data and there were no signs of his 200 mph accident that was about to occur, with Wheatley requesting the Red Flag on the safety of other drivers.
And there was always the age-long question. Why wasn’t the Red Flag shown at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix? The reason? All sporting integrity was thrown out of the window, and it would have been more difficult to get it stopped and restarted in Abu Dhabi than to keep it under the Safety Car. Yes, it could be said the actual outcome did lack a bit of sporting integrity, but whatever F1 Twitter or the British media will say to you, there was no ideal solution to the situation in front of Michael Masi.
It has particularly frustrated me that F1 has got to the point where sporting integrity is being sacrificed for entertainment. Formula One is a professional sport and a sport that is growing quickly and increasing in popularity, not a TV show that is on every couple of Sundays. The drivers are professional athletes, not actors. Stefano Domenicali’s desire to make race weekends as manic as possible reflects the new entertainment stance F1 is taking, with the FIA pulling out unnecessary Red Flags and the more frequent use of the Safety Car, a topic which hasn’t been mentioned as much as it should have been by now. Just look at the Safety Car deployment for Lance Stroll’s stricken Aston Martin at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the car was already halfway behind the barrier and the Safety Car was still deployed.
The drivers' reaction to the second Red Flag tells the entire story. Verstappen said: "I think it's quite clear - I just didn't understand why we needed a red flag". Lando Norris, who hugely benefited from the Red Flag further said: "[In] the second half, and especially with four laps to go, I feel like you ruin a lot of things. And I don't feel like it's fair for a lot of people who have done a good job and they get taken out.
"We come all the way to Australia, but it's so much hard work to drive 55, 56 laps perfectly. And, because they try and put on a show, you just get unlucky, and everything can get taken away from you all of a sudden. So I just think that side of it, I just think it needs a small rethink." Further frustration was felt by Fernando Alonso, amongst others. We are putting these drivers in a situation they find frustrating and they find unfair. The driver’s efforts, and more importantly, their safety are being sacrificed in order to put on the show. An absolutely ridiculous call.
And yes, Red Flags are necessary at times. What isn’t necessary are the constant standing starts. Yes, standing starts are brilliant to watch, but they feel so forced, and it gets to a point where it is unfair and the entertainment is being manufactured. Why the FIA is so objected to the standard rolling start is beyond me. The reasoning is clear, it’s from an entertainment standpoint, but the entertainment is being taken away from the question of integrity and morals.
And the FIA’s decision to restart only shot themselves in the foot. The multi-car pile-up that occurred in the opening sector was an embarrassment to the sport. Such a feeling of unprofessionalism and it all felt so unnecessary and left many drivers’ hard work for nothing, such as Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, and Carlos Sainz Jr.. What further caused embarrassment for the FIA was yet another confusion regarding restart orders and sporting procedures, with yet another long-winded confusion about what order the pack would be in as they crossed the line. It’s simply embarrassing for the officials, with spectators at home and even worse, at the circuit, along with the drivers, not having the slightest inkling of what is occurring in front of them. This is a whole separate problem in itself, but it was so easily preventable by the FIA by just finishing the race under the Safety Car which is the standard protocol.
I do also wish to touch quickly on Carlos Sainz Jr. He was too hot-headed approaching Turn 1, colliding with the very unfortunate Fernando Alonso. Yes, it probably was an offence that was worth penalising, but to give a five-second penalty in a race that is finishing under the Safety Car is incredibly bizarre. Sainz was always going to end up last for an incident that should not have put him last. Why the FIA was so oblivious to a grid penalty is simply bizarre, particularly considering they knew how the race would finish.
F1 and FIA’s approach to the direction that Formula One is going is a major concern. Domenicali’s radical viewpoints aren’t even supported by the most casual of fans, and although it’s a different topic it’s worrying and reflecting on the decisions made on the race track too. The fact that F1’s most essential safety element is being used for entertainment purposes reflects badly on the sport. Kevin Magnussen’s incident was not worthy of a Red Flag, in fact, the only incident that could have been considered a Red Flag was the pile-up caused by the unnecessary Red Flag. F1’s desperate greed for attention and viewership is taking over its sporting integrity and strong history, and its entertainment versus sport standpoint is detrimental to the experience for fans, drivers, and Formula One as a whole.