MONZA, Italy. A controversial safety car at the end of a race won by Max Verstappen. Formula 1 has already been here.
The one that ended Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix was a little less dramatic and much less impressive than last time at last year’s decisive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but it will still generate some serious discussion in the coming weeks.
While these two examples may seem like an obvious comparison, there are two distinct differences between them. Firstly, in Monza, the race ended under the safety car without a restart, and in Abu Dhabi, the infamous one-lap sprint. Secondly, at Monza, the FIA followed its own rules (albeit clumsily); this did not happen in Abu Dhabi.
This fact has not escaped the attention of Lewis Hamilton, who lost the title to Verstappen last year when then-race director Michael Masi mishandled the safety car restart procedure to secure a finish at Yas Marina.
“It always brings back memories,” Hamilton said Sunday of the belated safety car. “This is the rule that should be, right?
“So only once in the history of the sport did they fail a rule.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who famously told Masi, “No Michael, no, that was so wrong!” like the Abu Dhabi farce that played out last December — said finishing under the safety car at Monza on Sunday was the right thing to do, even if it was unpopular with fans on social media after the race.
“Very clear. There are rules, and they are written down, and from my point of view, regardless of whether I am injured in Abu Dhabi or not, today these rules were followed to the smallest detail, ”Wolf said.
“A car drove out on the highway, there were marshals, and there was a crane. Therefore, no one was allowed to overtake. And then there wasn’t enough time to restart the race when all the cars crashed.”
All riders stated that they would have preferred to finish in racing conditions. Even Verstappen, who will lose the most in this scenario.
“Everyone wants to finish under the green flag,” said Verstappen. “We just didn’t have enough laps.
“I had new software [tyre] also, so I didn’t worry even if it was a shootout on the same lap.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had an agonized view of the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull in front of him when told the race would end under the safety car, complained over the radio at the time: “Come on! It’s clear!”
“I really wanted this race to start again,” Leclerc later said. “I don’t understand because the last time we drove the track it was clean but it didn’t happen. Maybe there are things I didn’t know that made the restart impossible.”
As it turned out, the rapid restart within the framework of the pattern set by the rules was complicated by two separate events at once.
one) Daniel Ricciardo’s car got stuck in gear when he pulled over, slowing down his car’s recovery process.
This was pointed out in an FIA statement sent shortly after the race, which stated: “Despite the fact that every effort was made to quickly return car No. 3 and restart the race, the situation developed and the marshals were unable to bring the car to neutral and push her. on the way out.”
The nature of Ricciardo’s stop also nullified the other option available to the FIA stewards, the red flag, which would have neutralized the race and forced a standing restart.
“Since the safety of the evacuation operation is our only priority and the incident was not significant enough to require a red flag, the race ended with the use of the safety car in accordance with the procedures agreed between the FIA and all participants. The timing of the period for using the safety car inside the race is irrelevant to this procedure.”
2) Leaving the pits, the safety car drove ahead of third place George Russell, not race leader Max Verstappen, who was halfway down the track. Valuable time was wasted on correcting this error.
Mattia Binotto called waiting five laps behind the safety car “simply wrong” and questioned the impact of finishing the safety car on the overall spectacle in his team’s home race.
“I think we could have ended the race differently,” he told Sky Sports. “Finishing the safety car is never a good thing.
“It’s not for us, but for Formula 1 and the show, and I think the FIA has had enough time today to act differently.”
While this is likely to be a topic of discussion in the future, focusing on spectacle is a potentially risky thread for F1. The desire to end last year’s incredible season bout between Verstappen and Hamilton under racing conditions played a role in the “human error” that the FIA later claimed Masi committed in Abu Dhabi.
But it’s fair for Formula 1 to wonder if there could be better solutions. Fans frustrated by the result of seeing the finish under the safety car, which has only happened on nine previous occasions in F1, is understandable.
The fact that the race was so boring until Ricciardo’s retirement probably added to the disappointment. As Verstappen marched towards victory, Ricciardo retired on lap 47 of 53, which briefly seemed to give Ferrari a chance for a dramatic victory in their home race.
Formula 1 has never been as popular as it is now, and it seems to meet a lot of new fans with every race. It’s fair to wonder if a finish like the one we saw on Sunday is smart business for the sport in this position.
A crowd as good as the one at Monza deserved much more than the one in the final laps of the race, whether they followed the rules exactly or not.
Wolff said he would agree to a rule change to force a finish when the safety car was activated for the final laps.
“If someone is not happy with the rules and you want to put on a great show, two laps of racing and chaos, I think I absolutely agree,” he said. “But then we need to change the rules. So I don’t think we should complain about anything that happened because those are the rules.”
There is hardly a simple solution for such situations. Sebastian Vettel won the 2012 Safety Car World Championship when Paul di Resta’s late crash in rainy weather ended the exciting Brazilian Grand Prix early.
That day it was a disappointing event, but when everything goes according to the rules, finishing under the safety car can always be considered a fair outcome. One of the most important components of a safety car is the element of luck. Some days it will favor one rider, the next it will favor another.
As Hamilton himself said of the safety cars on Sunday night, “It’s like playing roulette… black or red, you know?”