Stefan Johansson has questioned why there is an “obsession” with trying to prevent Safety Car endings to Grand Prix races.
Following on from the chaotic ending to the Australian Grand Prix, which saw two red flags shown in quick succession due to an attempted standing restart ending in carnage with multiple collisions, Johansson believes the “unfair” attempts at ending races under green flag conditions are leading to some questionable decision-making.
While not written into the Sporting Regulations, the controversial ending to the 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi revealed that the teams had agreed with the FIA that, when possible, every attempt should be made to end a Grand Prix under green flag conditions – leading to the infamous final lap at Yas Marina, as well as the farcical end to the Australian race which ended up finishing under Safety Car anyway.
Such antics haven’t impressed former F1 racer and Le Mans winner Stefan Johansson, who believes the lines between sport and entertainment are becoming increasingly blurred under Liberty Media.
Stefan Johansson: The Australian GP ending was not a “good look” for F1
“To some degree,” the Swede told PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview, when asked if F1 has strayed too far across into the realm of entertainment.
“If you take Australia  and Abu Dhabi , for example, clearly it has – if that was the objective, which we have to assume it was, that it had to finish under the green flag.”
“It certainly did not look good no matter what angle you look at it from. I’m not sure if this comes strictly from Race Control, or if they have certain orders or directives that they need to follow for the sake of the show, if you like, but it didn’t look good, that’s for sure. I think it could have been done in a different way.
“Instead, you have one lap literally, where everybody will just pile into each other – it changes the whole outcome of the event just for the sake of not finishing behind the Safety Car.
“It throws the race completely, you bust your ass the whole race and then you end up either getting a random penalty or get taken out on the restart or whatever, so I don’t think it’s the fairest way to end the race for either the teams or the drivers.”
Stefan Johansson: A forced green flag ending isn’t a fair way to end a race
Instead of trying to completely reset a race in order to resume under green flag conditions, introducing the lottery element of a standing restart with only a lap or two to go, Johansson reckons F1 shouldn’t be afraid of ending a race behind a Safety Car, even if it does annoy fans who are there purely for the entertainment side.
“Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re gonna piss someone off,” he said.
“If you look at it from this side, someone’s gonna get offended. Look with this side, someone else is gonna get offended.
“It’s just the way in the world we live in today, unfortunately. But that’s why I think you just have to look at it more on the sporting level, because these teams are putting a massive, massive effort into this.
“To have everything, the outcome just change over one lap basically, which has no relevance to anything that happened before that, I don’t agree with that as a fair way of ending a race.
“It’s the same in IndyCar, it’s the same in every series. I don’t know why there’s this obsession to end on the green flag. It doesn’t make it fair.
“We’ve seen enough times now that it absolutely is an unfair ending to the race, if you reflect over the whole course of the race. The question is whether it’s a show or is it a race? That’s where they really need to sit down and think long and hard ‘what is it we’re doing here’?
“There was always a kind of a joke in F1, particularly about NASCAR and how the races would always end under green no matter how many restarts there were, or yellows would fly if the race got a bit processional. F1 is at the same level now which, in my opinion, is entirely contradicting everything that F1 has always stood for.
“Unfortunately, sometimes, things happen. There has been a number of races that ended behind the Safety Car. It is what it is, we can’t always control the situation. But that’s a more fair reflection of what actually happened in the race if you consider strategy decisions, tyre choices etc.”
FIA shake-up: Has it really changed anything?
With FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem taking over from Jean Todt at the end of 2021, instigating numerous changes such as the establishment of a Remote Operations Centre (ROC) which backs up the on-site Race Control, the experimentation with two alternating Race Directors in 2022 before settling on Niels Wittich for 2023, as well as the setting up of the Race Direction Development Programme (RDDP) to streamline the operations of Race Direction, PlanetF1.com asked Johansson whether F1 had entered a ‘new era’ in the wake of the Abu Dhabi controversy.
“There was obviously a big shake-up there within the FIA and everything,” he said.
“But I’m frankly not sure if it’s changed a whole lot. I’m a bit bewildered sometimes at the decision-making that goes on now, as well as I did back then. I mean, I know it’s a tough job up in that tower there but I think a lot of it is a little bit over the top with all these silly and most of the time completely random five or ten-second penalties.
“What bothers me is the randomness of the penalties. One weekend, it’s a five-second for this, and then it’s a 10-second for something else. I think the drivers must be very confused with all this too, because how do you know when you do the right thing or not? There are rules for track limits, there are just so many things going on that don’t need to be there.
“Frankly, if you rethought the whole situation, I think half of the things that they get penalised for could be avoided if you just sat down and really went through everything.
“Instead of adding more and more rules, I think it would be helpful to get to the root of the problems instead of adding one ‘band-aid’ rule after another, this would solve most of these issues automatically.
“Just simplify everything, it will make life a lot easier for everybody.”