5. Red Flag!

David Smith is a stickler for detail and precision. He is exactly the sort of chap you need looking over your shoulder when compiling F1 facts and figures. I am not the only F1 author to have benefited from his diligence and eagle eye. But David’s F1 interest and activities go way beyond the exactitude of the stats. He has deep F1 knowledge, simply loves the history, and as well that he’s a bit of a scribe. His marvellous piece on Peter Collins deserves a far wider audience than his local village magazine. If Motor Sport doesn’t give him space, perhaps I may be allowed to publish it here one day.

Anyway, following the first round of 2016 at Melbourne, David sent me the following email about red flagged races since the new procedure was first implemented in 2007. Until I read it and thought more about how red flag occurrences were previously handled, I have to admit that I hadn’t properly appreciated why the clock keeps ticking during the red flag period.

David Hayhoe’s excellent new publication, ‘Formula 1: The Knowledge’, confirms that the first use of the red flag was Race 207, the 1971 Canadian GP. David gives the reason as ‘heavy rain’, although I have to differ based on the eyewitness report given to me by Peter Dick. Peter, who was there, contacted me to say that it was fog, not rain that stopped the race, marshals no longer able to see from one marshaling post to the next. On the strength of this, Race Pod 207 has been suitably corrected to ‘stopped due to fog’… unless winner JYS tells me otherwise!

I find it hard to believe that it was more than 20 years and 200 races before a red flag was waved in a F1 world championship race, but now I reflect on it, a number of races continued even when there was utter carnage involving multiple spectator deaths and casualties (Races 24 and 101). The organisers of Race 24, the 1953 Argentinean GP, were worried that if they stopped the race the large unruly crowd might riot!

Even after the red flag was first introduced, stopping a race in extreme circumstances was by no means the automatic response it has now become. There were occasions when races continued uninterrupted in an almost callous manner, even when a driver was fighting for his life in a burning wreck. I’m thinking in particular, of course, of the ghastly events surrounding Race 230.

From that first one to date, some 80 Grands Prix have been red-flagged, a perhaps surprisingly high incidence of approximately 1 in 10. The majority were restarted as a new race, as inevitably it’s the opening laps following a grid start, the field still closely bunched, that are particularly susceptible to a race halting incident. The very first one of these was Race 229 (making the decisions taken at the following tragic race even more perplexing). We were watching from Becketts that year and as I recall it took the best part of an hour to clear up the first lap mess at Woodcote and get the race restarted. With no trackside TV screens and the woeful public address systems of the time, a clear picture of events was hard to come by. But a close race ensued, the top four covered by just 3.4s and James Hunt laying down a marker.

Around a dozen red flagged races were never restarted, Race 516, halted by torrential rain after just 14 laps, still the shortest GP on record. And then there are ten races that were run as a two-part event, the winner’s time decided by the aggregate of the race time recorded before and after the red flag stoppage. Thankfully only one of those, Race 450, produced the idiotic situation where the driver who received the chequered flag was not the actual winner.

And that’s why keeping the clock running during the red-flag period is the best solution, as now we have one, single, elegant protocol that successfully addresses all the red-flag scenarios mentioned earlier.

So thank you David Smith for clarifying matters for me, and maybe for others, through your following email:

Hi Roger,

 The 2016 Australian Grand Prix was the ninth red flagged GP. This is when a GP is stopped due to accident/debris on circuit, but the time clock is kept running. I do not like these, and much preferred it when if a GP was stopped, the race was run as two heats with aggregate timing on final results.  
After each of these GPs I have written to Charlie Whiting to give me the actual time the race is suspended. He explained after the 2011 Canadian GP how it works. His e-mail reads:

“When we decide to suspend a race (red flag) the timekeeping itself does not stop, hence the extremely long lap times, but the countdown clock which starts at 2.00.00 at the race start does stop as the length of the stoppage will be added to the two hour maximum. So in other words, the two hours refers to the time the cars are racing (in Montreal the two hours elapsed during the last lap!)”

 Here are his timings.
2007: EUROPEAN (Nürburgring). Red flagged after 4 laps because of rain. Restart for the remaining 56 laps.  Total race time: F.Alonso: 2h: 06m 26.358s  (stoppage time 24m20s)
2010: KOREA (Yeongam). Red flagged after 4 lap because of rain. Restart for the remaining 51 laps. Total race time : F.Alonso : 2h 48m 20.810s (stoppage time 48m 08s)
2011: MONACO (Monte Carlo). Red flagged after 72 laps because of an accident. Restart for the remaining 6 laps. Total race time: S.Vettel: 2h 09m 38.373s (stoppage time 20m 43s)
2011: CANADIAN (Montreal). Red flagged after 24 laps because of rain. Restarted for the remaining 46 laps. Total race time: J.Button:  4h 04m 39.537s (race suspended at 13h 45m 57s and resumed at 15h 50m 00s  giving stoppage time of 2h 04m 03s)
2012: MALAYSIAN (Sepang). Red flagged after 8 laps because of heavy rain. Restarted for the remaining 48 laps. Total race time: F.Alonso: 2h 44m 51.812s (race suspended at 16h 23m 59s and resumed at 17h 15m 00s giving stoppage time of 51m 01s)
2013: MONACO (Monte Carlo). Red flagged after 46 laps because of an accident. Restarted for the remaining 32 laps. Total race time: N.Rosberg: 2h 17m 52.056s (stoppage time 24m 24s)
2014: BRITISH (Silverstone). Red flagged after 1 lap because of an accident. Restarted for the remaining 51 laps. Total race time: L.Hamilton: 2h 26m 52.094s (race suspended at 13h 05m 38s and resumed at 14h 05m 00s giving stoppage time of 59m 22s)
2014: JAPANESE (Suzuka). Red flagged after 2 laps. Restarted for remaining 51 laps, but stopped on lap 44 after accident. Total race time: L.Hamilton: 1h 51m 43.021s (race suspended at 15h 05m 05s and resumed at 15h 25m 00s giving stoppage time of 19m 55s)
2016: AUSTRALIAN (Melbourne) Red flagged after 18 laps because of an accident. Restarted for remaining 39 laps. Total race time : N.Rosberg : 1h 48m 15.565s (race suspended at 16h 35m 38s and resumed at 16h 55m 00s giving stoppage time of 19m 22s).
Not sure if this information is of any use? But I do not think it is published in any race report/annual.