Race Control’s decision to red flag the Australian Grand Prix after Kevin Magnussen’s late-race crash has divided opinion with some drivers and fans believing it was the right call, others saying it was a mess.
It also leads to the larger question of whether is it now a case of entertainment first and the sport second in the world of F1?
PlanetF1.com weighs in on the late-race red flag that ultimately led to a multi-car collision at the Albert Park circuit.
‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ should probably be the final line in the FIA’s rule book because they can’t win.
Had they deployed the Safety Car to give marshals cover while they cleaned up the debris from Kevin Magnussen’s crash, Race Control would’ve been criticised for the grand prix ending under a Safety Car. Remember Monza 2022?
They also would’ve come in for some stick had the marshals rushed to do the job and a driver or three suffered tyre blow-outs as a result of a shard of carbon fibre puncturing a tyre.
So instead the red flag was shown with three laps remaining, which meant one lap to get to the grid and two laps of action.
Had Carlos Sainz not spun Fernando Alonso triggering a multi-car collision we’d all be praising the FIA, applauding them for giving fans the excitement they so desperately crave in the midst of a Red Bull rampage.
Alas Sainz did spin Alonso, there was a multi-car pile-up, and now the FIA are being blamed for trying to create Drive to Survive-esque drama. No, they were just doing their job which is to ensure the drivers can race and can race safely.
If anything the drivers should hold up their hands and admit responsibility, the likes of Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Logan Sargeant all playing a big part in the carnage.
Where the FIA did score an own goal was in not declaring the result right there and instead sending the drivers out for a farcical 58th and final lap behind the Safety Car. No one could overtake, there’d be no racing after that lap, it was nothing but a waste of time for everyone and only gave everyone one more reason to criticise the FIA.
The sporting regs state “if competitors or officials are placed in immediate physical danger by cars running on the track, and the clerk of the course deems circumstances are such that the track cannot be negotiated safely, even behind the Safety Car, the sprint session or the race will be suspended.”
And under that description, I believe there is a strong case to say the race director made the right call.
The shredding of Magnussen’s car, of which some debris cut a fan watching on, was sufficient enough to suggest that a lot of the track needed clearing up, a problem that would have been harder and more dangerous if marshals had to watch for the oncoming Safety Car and the field behind it.
Sure, if the race director had a crystal ball and could see the chaos that would unfold following the restart, he may have been more inclined to finish the race under Safety Car conditions but he had no way of knowing that would be the outcome.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is why the rules dictate the race must finish even if the final lap would take place entirely behind the Safety Car with no overtaking allowed? The drivers know the result, the teams know the result and the fans know the result and barring any mechanical problems, it is a pointless lap that need not be run.
With debris scattered all over the track after Magnussen ripped his wheel off, I think the only real option for Race Control was to red-flag it.
Had the incident been earlier in the race, a Safety Car would probably have been more than enough but, given the desire to finish races under green flag conditions whenever possible, the red flag did make sense.
But what doesn’t make sense to me is the rule about standing restarts, a rule that was only introduced five years ago. Up until 2018, after a red flag, the drivers would drive around behind the Safety Car for a lap (or more, if the Race Director wanted) before resuming with a rolling restart. This, to me, makes a lot more sense and reduces the lottery that a standing start does.
With over 50 laps of actual racing having already taken place, having a two-lap race after a standing start tips the risk vs. reward scales far beyond what can be considered safe – resulting in the bedlam we witnessed on Sunday.
Had it not occurred at the scale it did, drives like Fernando Alonso’s and Sergio Perez’s would have gone unrewarded through no fault of their own, while the standing start did ruin Alpine’s day. Imagine, too, if the race had been a chess match of strategic daring – only to have that chessboard thrown aside in favour of two laps of mayhem, because of a rule aimed at entertainment.
Resetting the race in such a fashion, particularly so late in the day, just invites carnage as well as the element of a lottery. While entertaining (which is becoming alarmingly sought after in Race Control decisions), lottery-generated results shouldn’t be seen as desirable.
I would propose keeping the red flag restart rules as they are, with the preferred option being to go with a standing restart when conditions allow – but only for the first 75% race distance. Should a restart be needed in the final 25% of the race, then a rolling start behind the Safety Car removes the lottery factor and re-tips the risk/reward scales back in favour of sensibility.
When a standing start takes place with a few cars already having retired and plenty to be gained for those brave (or stupid) enough with two laps to go, the mistakes at the final restart were a probable by-product of the decision made in the circumstances.
You can understand the FIA’s perspective in wanting races to end under green flag conditions as often as possible, and the added bonus from FOM’s point of view was the fact a two-lap dash would have made for the ultimate sprint race – a win/win, at least on the face of it.
But in terms of sporting integrity and driver safety, a rolling restart after one lap behind the Safety Car, as per the previous model used in Formula 1, would most likely have made more sense. There would have been a portion of risk taken out of the first corner, drivers would still be in close quarters to try and move up the pack, and there would still have been only two laps of racing left.
It should be noted that the FIA did the correct thing in following the precedent set from Silverstone last year in resetting the order following Zhou Guanyu’s crash – which Fernando Alonso impressively remembered instantly in the heat of the moment after being spun around – but everything else around the restart felt like it somewhat missed the mark.
The sport versus entertainment debate is one that is becoming louder in Formula 1, and the way the regulations have been implemented in recent years would suggest the latter is seemingly getting an increasing number of backers on the governance side of the sport, which is something to keep an eye on as we move forward.