The 2023 Australian Grand Prix was chaotic to say the least as three red flags left everyone wondering how the race would pan out and what the restart rules were.
Red flags in Formula 1 are generally used for poor weather, huge crashes, barrier damage or debris that will take too many laps to clear up under the safety car.
At the Australian GP, it was a case of the latter factor, as well as the number of cars off the road on the final restart.
Max Verstappen was not pleased about the race being red flagged for a second time when Kevin Magnussen caught the wall at Turn 2 and his tyre flew off. However, he held on to win the race, albeit all the talk will be about the red flags.
F1 red flag regulations
The red flag regulations have changed over the years in F1 but the current rules state you can make changes when returning to the pit lane, so tyres can be changed and any parts such as front wings.
For an initial red flag in the middle of the race, the order is whatever the order of the Grand Prix is, which is what happened with the first stoppage in Melbourne.
A 10-minute warning is given to the teams ahead of the restart, so the drivers have plenty of time to get ready.
Red flag restart regulations
From 2002 to 2016, a rolling start was used to restart the Grand Prix but this was changed in 2017, so there was the option of a standing start restart.
This first happened at the 2020 Italian GP, when Pierre Gasly took a shock win, although the 2019 German GP also saw a standing start after a delayed start due to weather. However, the race was not actually red flagged.
“Signals will be shown ten minutes, five minutes, three minutes, one minute and fifteen
seconds before the resumption and each of these will be accompanied by an audible
warning,” reads article 58 in the F1 sporting regulations.
“When the five minute signal is shown all cars must have their wheels fitted. Tyre
blankets must also be disconnected from any power supply at this time and must not be
reconnected during the start procedure, unless the delayed start signal is shown.
“After this signal wheels may only be removed if the car has been moved out of the fast
lane or during a further suspension.”
What happened at the 2023 Australian GP?
The reason for the mayhem at the end of the Australian GP was because a red flag was called with three laps to go and another red flag was needed due to the chaos of multiple cars going off including Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant.
F1‘s regulations state if the cars go past the first sector, then the order from the restart is taken, not the current order of the race.
But, if the drivers do go beyond Sector 1 then the order is the standings of the race at that timing line.
Even though, there was just one lap left and no more green flag racing could be completed, the FIA decided the cars had to complete the final lap anyway.
This meant the Alpine pair and those who couldn’t take to the restart lost out.
Why was there so much controversy?
It was the necessity for the red flags that were questioned by some drivers, with some feeling the debris could have been cleared under the safety car.
The 2021 Azerbaijan GP had a standing start restart after a red flag with two laps remaining, so it was not unprecedented for the late restarts in Melbourne. However, the 2022 Italian GP finished behind the safety car, which has happened 10 times in F1.
“Of course, very happy to win the race,” said Verstappen. “But I think the race itself towards the end was a bit of a bit of a mess with all the calls.
“I don’t think we needed that second red flag, that could have been done with a virtual safety car, or a safety car at worst. It left a lot of drivers confused about why it needed a red flag.”