Was The Italian Grand Prix’ ‘Controversial’ Safety Car Finish Wrong?
Was The Italian Grand Prix’s ‘Controversial’ Safety Car Finish Wrong?

Local Ferrari fans were denied a victory at Monza this year — and booed winner Max Verstappen as he crossed the finish line behind a safety car

Five race wins in a row for Max Verstappen ought to please Red Bull fans — but it was a bittersweet Italian GP victory for some as the reigning champion crossed the finish line under the presence of a safety car, drawing comparisons to his controversial 2021 title-clinching win.


 Credits: @F1/Twitter

Verstappen snatched last year’s title in Abu Dhabi when the race was restarted with one lap remaining and the Red Bull driver overtook Hamilton in a controversial climax. This time, it was a clocked engine of Daniel Riccardo’s that swept in the safety car with six laps to go — and while the rules were clearly observed, sleeping dogs won’t lie, at least not for ex-champ Lewis Hamilton.

“It always brings memories back. That is the rule that it should be, right?” Hamilton said to Sky Sport in Italy, after a healthy P19-P5 race, right behind Carlos Sainz in P4, teammate George Russell in P3, and Charles Leclerc in P2.

“There’s only one time in the history of the sport where they haven’t done the rules like that today and that’s the one where it changed the result of the championship. But it is what it is.”

With Twitter drowning out in memes, jokes, and heated discussions about the race at Monza, there’s one question that everyone seems eager to answer:

Was It Right To Use A Safety Car?

Last year’s Abu Dhabi debacle was caused by a crash from Nicholas Latifi, who we’ll take a moment for after being completely schooled by newcomer Nyck De Vries, who won Driver of the Day on Sunday for his first-ever time in a Williams F1 car — scoring two points and eclipsing his literally pointless teammate by a factor of about infinity times two, knocking Latifi into 21st position in a 20-driver championship.

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This time, the safety car was brought out by an engine failure in troubled vet Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, one of the last few times he will be driving in F1, if rumours are to be trusted. Beached ahead of the second ‘Lesmo’ corner on Lap 47, the Aussie found himself stuck on a narrow patch of the track, as the safety car was rolled out.


Credits: @F1/Twitter

This prompted the top four to stop for soft tyres, in anticipation of a red flag restart. However, a delayed pit exit from Verstappen saw the cars line up only by Lap 51 of 53, making it clear that the race would end in painfully undramatic fashion — prompting plenty of online and on-ground backlash from fans:

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“The end was frustrating,” admitted runner-up Leclerc after the race. “I wish we could have gone racing. It’s a shame. I gave my all but we got P2 today,’ he said in the immediate aftermath of the race.”


 Sure, there’s an element of truth here — watching a race finish behind a safety car is exciting to no one, especially the 125,000-odd Ferrari fans who booed Verstappen as the Dutchman crossed the finish line. Even Verstappen himself said that it was ‘unfortunate’ to avoid a restart.

Several fans and pundits who advocated the restart idea pointed at Baku 2021 — a Grand Prix that will be well-remembered for its dramatic, high-stakes two-lap race restart. After Verstappen’s tyres blew out, race director Michael Masi decided to standing-start the race at Lap 50, with just two to go.

The entertainment value here could not be understated — Hamilton lost his lead after a brake setting mistake, while multiple scraps down the middle row ensured an exciting 2nd F1 win for Sergio Perez.

Others (such as myself), argue that while the safety car deployment made for dull racing, it was absolutely uncontroversial and resulted in the safest, least problematic race result for everyone involved.

For starters, there’s just the sheer dominance of Verstappen, who was so far ahead of the pack that discussions of an overtake from Leclerc were more fantasy than realistic speculation. Rather, the right way to understand the decision comes from whether or not the safety car ensured the safety of Ricciardo and the marshals involved — entertainment be damned. Here’s what the officials said:

“As the safety of the recovery operation is our only priority, and the incident was not significant enough to require a red flag, the race ended under Safety Car following the procedures agreed between the FIA and all competitors. 

The timing of the Safety Car period within a race has no bearing on this procedure.”

After all, races have been ending this way for decades at this point, and no one complained… until Verstappen won the championship, that is.

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In summary, I think The Race and wtf1 Editor Ben Anderson put it best, in a post-race podcast segment:


“Where’s the cut-off for a red flag, first of all?” asked Anderson. “I get that everybody wants to have excitement, a rich experience, a spectacle. But you can’t always have lobster thermidor, roast lamb, and wine on tap — sometimes, a bit of boring plain bread is what the constitution needs!”

Formula 1 returns on the 20th of September with the Singaporean Grand Prix.

Lead Image: Formula 1

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