Qualifying – the most intense moment of a Formula 1 race weekend, where one bad mistake, such as running into traffic or being sent out at the wrong time, can ruin a Grand Prix before the red lights go out.
But some things are out of the driver’s control, one of those things being the presence of a red flag during a session, caused by anything from fan disobedience to debris or even a damaged barrier.
However, the most common cause of a red flag is a driver hitting the barrier after simply trying too hard on a push lap, slamming the wall and turning a six-figure car into scrap in seconds.
These lapses of judgement delay the session as the marshals need time to clear the track, ruining other drivers’ laps and causing some to question whether drivers should be penalised for causing a red flag.
So does F1 need to take a leaf out of IndyCar’s books and implement a rule which punishes drivers for their mistakes?
The case for such a rule
In 2022, five qualifying sessions saw red flags brought out to stop proceedings, with some sessions having multiple stoppages delaying the calumniation of qualifying.
Session-stopping accidents have caused series like IndyCar and Formula E to adopt a policy where if a driver causes a red flag, they lose their fastest time as well as have to spend a considerable amount of time in the pit lane if they manage to free themselves from the barrier.
Carlos Sainz, a victim of a red flag in Monte Carlo that cost him a chance of snatching pole position from teammate Charles Leclerc, now says that he and his fellow competitors want a similar rule introduced to end the culture of drivers getting away with their mistakes.
“I think it’s for real now that all drivers want some kind of a rule that, if you generate a red flag or a yellow flag, even if it’s intentional or not, there should be something done to that driver, because you’ve compromised the other nine on purpose, or maybe not,” said Sainz.
“But you should get a penalty for it. If not, we’re all going to start playing with it. And I’ve seen over the last few years a lot more play around with it than what you might even have picked out in the media.”
Zak Brown is also in agreement with the Spaniard and his fellow drivers believing the system would be easy to implement and could have a variety of penalties.
“I think what Carlos said, I think it should be red flags or yellow flags, for effectively impeding a driver from completing their lap,” said Brown to Motorsport.com.
“They do that in other forms of motorsports, the penalties, you just lose your fastest lap from that session, and all the drivers tend to do one lap runs so that would penalise the driver if it was intentional or unintentional. Because you’ve messed up someone else’s lap.
“I think that’s an easy solution; it can be implemented right away. You cause a driver to have to back out; you lose your lap, you get to go again and maybe you won’t have a chance.”
Would it work?
Not everyone is a fan of the idea, with Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack claiming that the concept would be hard to regulate.
“I do not have a black-and-white opinion on this,” said Krack. “I think we need to really look case-by-case, going to sporting advisory and maybe have a look at the last 10 years where we had situations because it’s quite quick to pre-condemn someone when it was not good.
“I think it would be easy to say, yeah, it has to be like that, but I think it will be a tough call to do it.”
Krack does raise an excellent point, how would the system be regulated and what would be the proper penalty for causing a red flag?
But ultimately, if the drivers agree on the new rule, then the governing body should implement it; after all, if they make their mistakes, why shouldn’t they face the consequences?
In this writer’s opinion, the best way of policing such a system would be to have a two-tier penalty system with drivers causing a deliberate accident or simply pushing too hard, losing their fastest lap, whilst a non-deliberate shunt would carry a penalty of a drive-through that must be served during the race.
New regulations take time to implement, but this should be fast-tracked as it would stop drivers from pushing beyond the limit to shave a thousandth of a second off their lap time.
Yes, qualifying should remain the ultimate test for drivers, but they should be made to think twice about their competitors when taking a dangerous approach to a corner, as their mistake impacts not just themselves and their mechanics but also their competitors.