Alpine believe Japanese GP chequered flag was waved too early

Jon Wilde
Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso's Alpine. Suzuka October 2022.

Alpine believe Fernando Alonso should have had one more lap to try and get past Sebastian Vettel in the Japanese Grand Prix.

The team’s sporting director, Alan Permane, has expressed the opinion that the chequered flag was waved a lap too early at Suzuka.

That is because the race was truncated by the three-hour window in which a grand prix must be completed after it has begun, notwithstanding any stoppages such as occurred in Japan.

Starting on time even though rain was falling, the race was red-flagged before the end of the first lap after fourth-placed Carlos Sainz had crashed and Alex Albon also retired as a result of contact at the rear of the field.

On hold for two hours as the rain intensified, the grand prix was eventually reduced to a 40-minute sprint-type race on full wet and intermediate tyres which Max Verstappen won and also wrapped up the World Championship.

Alonso, who made two pit-stops for intermediates, was closing in fast on Vettel for sixth place and eventually crossed the line only a hundredth of a second behind his Aston Martin rival.

But as the end of the race had been determined by the point when the race clock ticked down to zero, Permane thought a mistake had been made regarding when the chequered flag came out.

The evidence he cited was that Verstappen took the chequered flag at 3:01:44 and the fastest lap of the race, recorded by Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, was 1:44.411.

“There were still five seconds on the clock. That’s why he (Verstappen) should have finished the lap,” argued Permane, quoted by Motorsport-Total.com.

“Based on our systems, which are linked to those of the FIA, I’m sure Max was going into the last lap when he crossed the line.”

In other words, Permane thought Verstappen had started what turned out to be his final lap five seconds before the race clock timed out, and therefore should have completed a 29th circuit instead of just 28.

If that had been the case, Alonso would probably have passed Vettel for P6 – although it is also possible Esteban Ocon may also have surrendered P4 to Lewis Hamilton, whom he had been trying to fend off and eventually beat by less than seven tenths of a second.

Do Alpine’s claims hold water?

Much like the scoring system for a race that does not go its full distance, and which at Suzuka caused confusion over whether Verstappen was yet confirmed as champion, there are anomalies regarding the point at which a race ends.

For instance, if the two-hour duration is reached in which the cars are actually on track, the rule states there is one more lap for the leader to complete when they cross the line at the end of the lap they are on when time is up.

But in the case of races like the Japanese Grand Prix, it is different. When the three-hour all-encompassing time limit is reached, which by definition includes stoppages of at least one hour, the chequered flag is waved as soon as the leader next reaches the finish line.

This was put to Permane regarding his claim made above, with his response to reporters being: “We still need to check that. We sent messages back and forth asking if the race was waved off too early. We all agreed it had been. But the FIA apparently disagree.”

On a day when F1’s regulatory complexities and procedures were again very much in the spotlight, this is another issue that needs clarifying – as much, it seems, for the benefit of the teams as everyone else.

Read more – Japanese Grand Prix conclusions: Max goes from raw to refined, plus the stain on Suzuka