IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe Weighs in on Formula 1 Checkered Flag Snafu
The flagman may say one thing with his mighty and colorful flag, but it doesn’t mean he’s always right.
Sunday's Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix was a big snoozefest that saw Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel lead from start to finish, with the most exciting moment of the race happening on the opening lap when Brendon Hartley attempted to pass home-hero Lance Stroll by driving over the tire barrier Lightning-McQueen style.
The second most exciting moment of the race was when Winnie Harlow, Lewis Hamilton's friend and celebrity model, waved the checkered flag on lap 69 instead of 70. As a result, some drivers, including leader Vettel, radioed their pits to inquire if the race was truly over or not. At the other end of the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, corner workers waved their flags like they typically do on the cooldown-celebration lap. It was a mess, to say the least.
This made me wonder about what crosses the mind of a racing driver when they see the checkered flag being waved but they know there are more laps to contest. Of course, most modern-day drivers can simply radio their teams for confirmation, but that doesn't take away from the fact that there is a brief moment of confusion when drivers don't know whether they should continue flat out or they should slow down. It's actually scary stuff.
James Hinchcliffe, Verizon IndyCar Series racing driver for Schmidt Peterson Racing and self-proclaimed mayor of Hinchtown, kindly shared with us his very own approach to these flag fiascos.
"I learned at a very young age to never necessarily just believe the flagman because of a go-kart race when I was a kid that Lee Bentham was racing at," said Hinchcliffe.
"At the time, he [Bentham] was already an Atlantic [Championship Series] star, had a potential future in IndyCar racing, and he was a big deal. During this particular race, the flagman threw the checkered flag a lap too early. He [Bentham] pulled into the pits, as you would, but the race wasn’t done yet so he ended up losing the race. I remember my dad telling me at the time that no matter what; until you see the yellow flags in all the corners and you see the checkered flag at the finish and everybody else coming in; don’t come in. Obviously, we didn't have radios in go-karts.
Much like Hinchcliffe would've done, Vettel didn't slow down when he saw the black and white flag wave at the start-finish line. He radioed his team, who quickly confirmed that there was still one more lap to contest. Meanwhile, Harlow, the celebrity flag waver, was cleared of all wrongdoing by FIA race director Charlie Whiting.
"It’s always stuck with me and it’s always been one of the things I’ve thought about," Hinchcliffe added. "I’ve got a lap counter in the car as well, and 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.”