Formula One officials were left red-faced at the Canadian Grand Prix after the chequered flag was waved one lap early by a celebrity.
It begs the question – why shouldn’t a fan get that opportunity?
With the Canadian Grand Prix usually consisting of 70 laps, celebrity guest Winnie Harlow was mistakenly instructed by the official starter to wave the chequered flag at the end of lap 69, when race-leader Sebastian Vettel still had one lap to go.
The early deployment also prompted some marshals to believe the race was over and wave their flags in the usual cool-down lap tradition.
As per the regulations, an early chequered flag deployment is treated in the same manner as a red flag scenario, and the official results are to be taken from one lap further back (in this case, to the end of lap 68).
The organiser’s blushes were spared, however, by the fact that no position changes occurred on what would have been the final lap of the race, meaning no driver lost out in the scenario.
However, Daniel Ricciardo’s fastest lap was chalked off and handed to Max Verstappen, who held the accolade earlier in the race.
“The chequered flag was shown a lap early because of a miscommunication with the guy that they call the starter here, who starts and finishes the races,” said Whiting.
“He thought it was the last lap, he asked race control to confirm it, they confirmed it, but they thought he was making a statement when he was asking a question.
“He just showed it a lap early, or he told the flag waver to show it a lap early, so it wasn’t anything to do with the fact that it was a celebrity flag waver.”
Whiting believes that those involved need to be briefed better about the on-screen graphics, which display which lap the leader is on, as opposed to how many laps have been completed.
“I think people who don’t work in F1 are sometimes a little confused by the graphic that they see on the screen where it says 69 out of 70,” he said.
“We all know that means we’re on lap 69, but to someone who let’s say is more casual observer thinks ‘Oh, this must mean it’s the last lap.’
“I think that’s where the doubt originates. Obviously we need to do a better job of briefing these people.
“You’re dealing with a lot of human beings, different countries, different languages, and it’s not always absolutely perfect.
“Of course we strive for perfection. Fortunately there was no real harm done, insofar as it didn’t affect the result of the race.”
This situation isn’t a new one in Formula One. A similar scenario happened at the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix and, fortunately, it didn’t impact on any of the points-paying positions. However, Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi had his late-race pass on Manor’s Jules Bianchi ruled out due to the count-back of laps.
Conversely, at the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix, footballing legend Pele waved the chequered flag too late after missing the moment that race-winner Michael Schumacher crossed the line.
Whiting conceded that the marshals prematurely cheering the winner would have only added to the uncertainty.
“This is part of the confusion. Sometimes marshals wave all their flags to congratulate the winner, and some of them were doing that, because they thought the race had finished too,” he said.
“Presumably they’d been told that the chequered flag had been shown. But the fact that it had been shown early, they didn’t know that of course.
“If all the marshals had started coming on the track when the guys were still racing, which is what I believe happened somewhere else in the past, that’s something that if this ever happens again we need to make sure we can take care of that.”
Waving the chequered flags: An opportunity for fan engagement?
Whilst the subject of whether or not the early chequered flag rule needs to be kept will probably be a meeting topic in the not-too-distant future, it can’t be denied that the honour of waving the chequered flag might be better-used as a fan engagement opportunity.
Liberty Media have been seeking ways to get the fans more involved in the usually-restrictive sport, and have already increased Formula One’s social media activity, and increased the number of additional attractions for fans attending a Grand Prix.
At some Grands Prix, paddock passes and opportunities to meet – and have photos with – the teams have been on offer as prizes.
An opportunity to wave the chequered flag at the winning driver would be an easy-to-implement prize for a Grand Prix goer.
The only drawback is that a member of the public would probably be less equipped to deal with any backlash from a flag-waving error than a celebrity.
All images: Motorsport Images
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