A simple miscommunication was to blame for the premature flying of the chequered flag at Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix, according to FIA, Formula One's governing body.
The flag, which signifies the end of the race, was waved at the end of lap 69 of 70, resulting in confusion among the drivers, teams, marshals and fans. Race leader Sebastian Vettel radioed his Ferrari team to point out the error but continued at full pace in the belief that the race would still go the full distance.
Under the regulations, a premature waving of the chequered flag results in the final standings being determined by the positions at the end of the previous lap -- in this case 68. Although the final results weren't changed -- apart from the fastest lap being awarded to Max Verstappen instead of Daniel Ricciardo -- the mix up did present a safety concern as marshals appeared from behind the race track walls to congratulate the drivers as they were still racing.
The flag itself was waved by model Winnie Harlow, but FIA race director Charlie Whiting was keen to stress that the mistake was not her fault.
"The chequered flag was shown a lap early because there was a miscommunication between the start platform and the guy that they call the starter, the guy that starts and finishes the races," Whiting said. "He thought it was the last lap, he asked race control to confirm it and they confirmed it.
"They thought he was making a statement when in fact he was asking a question and he just showed it a lap early, it's as simple as that. In fact, he told the flag waver to wave it a lap early, so it wasn't anything to do with the fact it was a celebrity flag waver.
"It's gone back to Lap 68 because that's what the regulations require," Whiting said. "The reason for doing that really is to make sure if there was some confusion over it then if you go back to the previous lap you will get a true race classification.
"It's like when a race is stopped and can't be restarted, you take it back prior to the lap where the red flag was given."
The same issue occurred at the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix, and Whiting said he believes it is due to a misinterpretation of the lap countdown on F1's world feed.
"We always do our best, but there's a lot of human beings -- different countries, different languages, so it's not always absolutely perfect. We always strive for perfection but there was no real harm done insofar as it didn't impact the outcome of the race," he said.
🤣🏁 loool just following instructions 🙆🏽♀️🤦🏽♀️🏎 https://t.co/oJQcOeYBXT— ♔Winnie Harlow♔ (@winnieharlow) June 10, 2018
Lol it wasn't me. https://t.co/2XZw7eFhZC— ♔Winnie Harlow♔ (@winnieharlow) June 10, 2018
"People who don't work in Formula One are sometimes a little confused by the little graphic they see on the television, where it says 69 out of 70. We all know we're on lap 69, but to someone who is a slightly more casual observer, they might think 'Oh, this must mean it's the last lap.' That's where the doubt originates and we need to do a better job briefing these people."
When it was put to Whiting that the starter should have known how to read the lap counter, he added: "He read the timing screen correctly, that's why he asked the question. He wanted to have it confirmed. He thought he had had it confirmed, but it wasn't. He thought the guy saying OK from race control said, 'Yes, correct.' He asked a question, but the guy in race control just thought he was telling him that.
"I need to go deeper and deeper into this of course, but it seems no one really knew. This is what we need to get to the bottom of. It's not satisfactory. Luckily it didn't affect the result but it may need us to review procedures and make sure we have a very simple procedure for every circuit.
"They all have different communication systems, different communication networks. Sometimes it's the clerk of the course who waves the flag -- they're all different. We need to make sure at every time we have a countdown. This is what some circuits will do, they'll say 'Leader's on his third last lap. Second last lap. This is the last lap.' Then they'll give the guy waving the flag points at where the leader is. They'll say, 'Next car,' that sort of thing. It wasn't done that thoroughly here."