The crown jewel of Formula 1, the historic Monaco Grand Prix, took place this past weekend and as usual the race was filled with lots of interesting happenings except for actual racing. …ok, there was Alonzo who was simply brilliant, but that’s only a single data point, not a trend. You can hear Shaun and Mike dissect the race later this week in Podcast Ep 39, but I want to take some time to analyze the mayhem that happened at the end of the race. With just a handful of laps to go, Lotus’ Jarno Trulli made an ambitious move on HRT’s Karun Chandhok and ended up sliding over the top of Karun’s cockpit. The safety car was deployed and it looked like that would be the end of the race. On the final lap, the safety car entered the pits as expected, but then the track went green. That’s when the controversy started. Take a look at the final couple of turns of the race and the battle between Mercedes GP’s Michael Schumacher and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Schumacher clearly puts a pass on the unsuspecting Alonzo, but after the race, Schumacher was given a 20-sec “drive through” penalty for what was deemed an improper overtake. In fact, the sporting regulations are very clear on what is to take place when the safety car initiates the last lap.
40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.
All racers and spectators also understand fully the meaning of a green flag. Green means GO MAN GO! Sadly, there are no clear definitions in the FIA regulations regarding a green flag or light in regards to the resumption of normal racing action. The regulations merely imply that the cause for the yellow had been removed and the track ahead is clear of obstructions.
4.1.2 Flag signals to be used at observation posts:
f) Green flag:
This should be used to indicate that the track is clear and should be waved at the observation post immediately after the incident that necessitated the use of one or more yellow flags.
– It may also be used, if deemed necessary by the Clerk of the Course, to signal the start of a warm-up lap or the start of a practice session.
So now we get to the conundrum. Does green mean go? When drivers see a green flag, does that mean that normal racing resumes and overtaking is again allowed? Schumacher obviously thought it did, but the race stewards, which ironically had Damon Hill as one of their number this weekend, decided that it did not. All of this could easily have been remedied by simply leaving the track in a yellow-flag condition or a radio reminder to all drivers that overtaking was not permitted. As I see it, this is another example of the FIA seriously botching what should have been a very clear cut situation. I love F1 for being the pinnacle of motorsport and all the brilliant engineering, but they are far from the pinnacle of proper sporting operation and regulation.