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Italian GP: Why did race end behind Safety Car? The explanation, rival views and Abu Dhabi comparisons


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Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok explains why the Italian Grand Prix ended behind the Safety Car and the options available to the FIA in situations like these.

Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok explains why the Italian Grand Prix ended behind the Safety Car and the options available to the FIA in situations like these.

The Safety Car ending to the Italian Grand Prix denied a “grandstand finish” between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc on Sunday, with the odd scenes prompting flashbacks of last season’s Abu Dhabi GP title decider – and differing views from Red Bull and Mercedes’ team bosses.

With Verstappen now 116 points ahead of Leclerc and potentially one race away from his second Formula 1 world championship, let’s explain the finale that upset Ferrari’s home fans, and the subsequent comments…

What happened and why fans were denied finale

Verstappen was cruising towards his fifth win in a row – 16 seconds ahead of the two-stopping Leclerc – when Daniel Ricciardo ground to a halt in his McLaren on Lap 47 of 53, stopping his car in between the Lesmos.

While yellow flags were immediately waved, there was a slight delay before a Safety Car period was signalled.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen wins the Italian Grand Prix as the race ends behind the Safety Car.

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen wins the Italian Grand Prix as the race ends behind the Safety Car.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen wins the Italian Grand Prix as the race ends behind the Safety Car.

Still, Verstappen and Leclerc followed many of their rivals into the pits on the following lap, fitting soft tyres as teams expected the race to get under way again shortly for an epic finale.

However, valuable time was wasted when the Safety Car came out in front of George Russell’s car, in third, and not Verstappen. It also didn’t initially release Russell and the 11 cars between him and the leader.

Mercedes told Russell to overtake the Safety Car, although the British driver refrained, with no green light showing to give him confidence to do so.

Another hindrance was the fact marshals were unable to move Riccardo’s car, and a cherry picker only started to recover it with three laps remaining.

Christian Horner admits they would have preferred Max Verstappen to win the race under normal racing regulations, rather than behind the Safety Car.

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Christian Horner admits they would have preferred Max Verstappen to win the race under normal racing regulations, rather than behind the Safety Car.

Christian Horner admits they would have preferred Max Verstappen to win the race under normal racing regulations, rather than behind the Safety Car.

Shortly after, Russell and the other cars were allowed to make their way past the Safety Car, but Verstappen only got to his required position at the front of the Safety Car queue at the end of Lap 51 of 53.

“At this point it became clear there wasn’t going to be enough time for all the cars to circle back around, join the train, and then release the lapped cars to finish the race under green flag conditions,” said Sky Sports F1’s Karun Chandhok.

Verstappen and Leclerc were split by two lapped cars – Yuki Tsunoda and Valtteri Bottas – on the penultimate lap, when the Monegasque was told before the final lap that this was how it would finish.

That prompted cries of “come on, the track is clear” from Leclerc, and boos from the fans. Verstappen was also booed on the podium.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says it was unfortunate that he was not able to fight for win in the closing stages, with the race ending behind the Safety Car.

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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says it was unfortunate that he was not able to fight for win in the closing stages, with the race ending behind the Safety Car.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says it was unfortunate that he was not able to fight for win in the closing stages, with the race ending behind the Safety Car.

What was said and why Red Bull, Merc disagree

The Safety Car finish on Sunday was the opposite ending to what happened in Abu Dhabi last year, when Race Director Michael Masi did bring the Safety Car in, allowing cars to un-lap themselves quickly, before Verstappen pounced on sitting duck Hamilton to claim a controversial title.

On this occasion, the rules were followed correctly by Race Director Niels Wittich, though Christian Horner made it clear after the race that Red Bull wanted the race to restart despite Verstappen’s advantage.

“We don’t want to win a race under a Safety Car,” the team boss told Sky Sports F1. “It’s something we’ve talked about for many many years, that they should finish racing.

“There was enough time to get that race going. I think they picked up the wrong cars, picked up Russell.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto was unhappy with FIA's implementation of the Safety Car regulations in the final stages of the race.

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Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto was unhappy with FIA’s implementation of the Safety Car regulations in the final stages of the race.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto was unhappy with FIA’s implementation of the Safety Car regulations in the final stages of the race.

“We had the faster car and we would have liked to win the race on the track, not behind the Safety Car. We share the disappointment of all the fans, because it took away a grandstand finish.

“It goes against the principles of what we’ve discussed previously. The biggest losers were the fans.”

Leclerc said he was “expecting the restart” but acknowledged that “maybe there were things in the background” stopping it. Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto, though, was even firmer than Horner with his words.

“Finishing behind a Safety Car is never great, not for us, but F1 and the show,” he said. “I think there was time for the FIA to act differently today.

“The Safety Car came in front of George but even so, I think there was no reason not to release the cars between the Safety Car and the leader. If we are simply waiting for safety, we know that now there’s a minimum lap time, so it’s fully safe to run.

“To wait so much, it’s simply wrong and not great for the sport. After Abu Dhabi last year, we had long discussions with the sport because the final objective is to try and restart the race in a safe manner, and I think today we could have.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his drivers' third and fifth-place finishes were the best they could have hoped for at the Italian Grand Prix.

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his drivers’ third and fifth-place finishes were the best they could have hoped for at the Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his drivers’ third and fifth-place finishes were the best they could have hoped for at the Italian Grand Prix.

“The FIA changed a lot in that area, but still I think they need more experience and they need to do a better job, because F1 deserves it.”

Toto Wolff, who was so furious after last year’s Abu Dhabi defeat, gave a pointed response – saying that “this time” the rules were followed correctly.

“The Race Directors are always going to be under criticism but I think this time they followed the rules – maybe they could have done it a lap sooner – and they accepted the race ends under the Safety Car.

“This is how it should be.”

The FIA’s explanation and how it could have ended

Sky Sports F1’s Ted Kravitz revealed the explanation from the FIA afterwards.

“They said the marshals couldn’t push it, they had hoped to recover the car quicker but doing that all takes time,” he reported.

“They also said it’s important to get the cars to bunch up to allow the marshals space to recover Ricciardo’s car.

“If there is a question, it’s about the lost Lap 50, why the green light was not shown earlier to Russell, especially as his Mercedes team were saying they think he can go by.”

Chandhok agreed that “procedurally, the Race Directors did everything right… they followed the rulebook, no question about it” – but came up with an alternative scenario that would have given a better finish.

“My personal view is that in light of what happened in Abu Dhabi, if we have an incident in the last five laps, it becomes an automatic red flag with a standing start,” he said. “I think for all of us, it was a little bit of an anticlimactic finish.”

Ted, meanwhile, concluded: “Was the Race Director playing it steady? Yes. Could he have been quicker? Yes.

“But was it a just result in the way Abu Dhabi wasn’t? Yes.”



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