Formula 1: Montreal’s Checkered Flag Fiasco Could’ve Been Much Worse

Celebrity model Winnie Harlow waved the black and white flag one lap early, confusing corner workers everywhere.

byJerry Perez|
F1 photo


The misunderstanding that took place on the closing laps of the 2018 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix may have seemed like a small hiccup to some, but waving the checkered flag on the wrong lap isn't just a tiny oops—it's something that could've had serious repercussions throughout the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

It all happened when celebrity model and good friend of Lewis Hamilton Winnie Harlow was invited to the stand to have the honor of waving the checkered flag for the winner of the 2018 race. Allowing a celebrity to wave the flag isn't something new in racing, but typically, racing series allow non-experts to deploy the green flag at the start of a race, not the chequered flag—for reasons which we witnessed on Sunday.

However, when Harlow did finally wave the checkered flag on lap 69 instead of lap 70, successfully confusing winner Sebastian Vettel and other drivers and corner workers around the circuit, social media erupted with ugly comments directed at Harlow.

While this fiasco immediately pointed at Harlow for the mistake, it was FIA's own race director Charlie Whiting that cleared Harlow and explained what happened during a post-race press conference.

“The chequered flag was shown one lap early because of a miscommunication with the guy that they call the starter here, who starts and finishes the races,” said Whiting. "He thought it was the last lap, he asked race control to confirm it, they confirmed it, but they thought he was making a statement when he was asking a question. He just showed it a lap early, or he told the flag waver to show it a lap early, so it wasn’t anything to do with the fact that it was a celebrity flag waver.”

Some may think, "well what's the big deal?" At the end of the day, everyone finished in the right order and nothing really happened because of it, with the exception of Daniel Ricciardo losing his fastest lap, of course. But, the most important lesson to learn from this scenario is what could've happened?

The very moment when the flag waver waves the checkered flag, hundreds of corner workers see it on the big screens around the track and go into "celebration mode," which means that they grab all of their colorful flags and come on the track to celebrate the drivers. At some venues, fans are allowed on the racing surface as early as the end of the cool-down lap, which in Montreal would've actually been the end of the last lap and the beginning of the cool-down lap. Catch the drift, here?

By signaling that the race was over, the full-on post-race mode was activated and it could've ended quite badly. After all, not all corner workers have radio communication with race control, and not all of them know exactly which lap the race is contesting. If they see their neighbors down the track waving all of their flags because those guys saw the checkered flag being shown on the screen, they're simply going to do the same. Someone could've been hurt, badly.

"I learned at a very young age to never necessarily just believe the flagman," IndyCar racing driver James Hinchcliffe told The Drive. "During this particular race [from his childhood], the flagman threw the checkered flag a lap too early, but the race wasn’t done yet so the leader ended up losing the race."

"If I saw the checkered flag before the lap counter was done, I would absolutely keep my foot in it and not assume the race was over until someone told me otherwise.”

Obviously, the FIA needs to revisit their checkered flag procedures, or allow celebrities to only wave the green flag, much like Indy 500 officials do, even if this time it wasn't the celebrity's fault.