Shanghai: Formula One’s stewards have been spared their blushes after a premature chequered flag and an obscure regulation only narrowly avoided seriously affecting the race result.
In what will inevitably be christened ‘flaggate’, the chequered flag was waved a lap early, which meant Kamui Kobayashi’s final lap pass on Jules Bianchi did not count.
Lewis Hamilton was shown the flag on lap 55, but rule 43.2 of the regulations stipulates that the race result is taken from the lap before.
Although in the end it did not have an impact on the points, Daniel Ricciardo was chasing Fernando Alonso for the final podium place and was almost within striking distance.
It seems it was a simple case of an official mistakenly waving the flag a lap too soon, but the FIA closed ranks to protect the individual concerned.
Hamilton said after the race he had slowed when he saw the chequered flag but carried on nonetheless.
“That was very strange… I was thinking ‘Am I seeing things? I thought I was starting my last lap and I glanced up and saw something waving, and realised it was the chequered flag,” he said.
“I lifted and lost about a second-and-a-half but the team said no, no, keep going.
“They told me the race stopped there. If the radio had failed and I had slowed down and Nico came past, that would have really sucked. Thank God, it didn’t.”
Kobayashi said it was a “shame” his pass for 17th did not count because of the mistake. “It’s a real shame that my move on him on the last lap now doesn’t count due to the mistake with the chequered flag, something we had nothing to do with,” said the Japanese.
Such places matter for small teams like Caterham, who have never scored a point and whose final position at the end of the season will be decided on placings and a possible countback as far as 17th and 18th.
“It had been good to see what a small victory like that does for the team as it lifted everyone at the end of a very tough first four races of 2014,” said Kobayashi.
Article 43.2 of F1’s sporting regulations states: “Should for any reason the end-of-race signal be given before the leading car completes the scheduled number of laps, or the prescribed time has been completed, the race will be deemed to have finished when the leading car last crossed the line before the signal was given.”
While the flag blunder was the highlight of Sunday’s race, there was another blunder at the Shanghai circuit.
A frustrated Felipe Massa was left ruing a pitstop blunder by his Williams team that left him out of the points.
The Brazilian had qualified in a season best sixth on Saturday and was racing the top five cars when he came into the pits for fresh tyres at the end of lap 10.
Confusion reigned in the Williams pit-box, however, with mechanics trying to fit the wrong tyres after mixing up the two rear wheels, leaving Massa stranded as his rivals streamed past.
That mishap ended Massa’s hopes of earning any points in Shanghai as the 32-year-old emerged from the pits in last place.
“Unfortunately, another race that we lost important points,” Massa, who eventually crossed the line a lap behind winner Lewis Hamilton in 15th place, told reporters.
“But what can I do? We need to understand everything that happens, when it’s good when it’s bad and try to make things better next (time).”
Williams had been tipped as potential title contenders after showing impressive pace in pre-season testing.
While their haul of 36 points after four races in 2014 is a marked improvement on the paltry five points they accumalated in the entire 2013 season, Williams have so far failed to deliver on that pre-season promise.
“First race somebody pushed me out, I lost massive points,” Massa said referring to the Australian Grand Prix when Caterham’s Kobayashi ran into the back of his Williams.
“Last race I was fighting for third, fourth and after the safety car I finished seventh so lost points. And this race another problem that made me lose points.
“So, for sure, I’m frustrated for what’s happened in so many races. I hope we don’t see that anymore and I hope we can have consistent races from now on.”