Everyone knows that the green flag means go, a red flag means stop, and the yellow flag is to slow down. Formula One uses the white flag to indicate that there is a slow-moving vehicle on track. Those of us across the pond use it to signify the last lap gloriously. A black flag means an end to your day, and after the Singapore Grand Prix, we are left asking, what does the blue flag mean exactly?
Hass Team Principle Gunter Steiner shared his beliefs before the engines roared in Sochi that blue flags should be eliminated. This comment coming after his driver Romain Grosjean and Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin missed (ignored) the blue flags due to their on-track battle for position. The questioning comes because it slowed the progress of leader Lewis Hamilton, who was being caught quickly by second-place Max Verstappen. If it wasn’t for Verstappen’s exercise in sportsmanship when they came upon the backmarkers, Verstappen could have passed Hamilton and won the race. Generally, the cars that are going a lap down have to concede and let the leader through with no resistance. But should the backmarkers have to sacrifice their race for the leader?
Steiner commented further by stating “We keep on saying we need to get the field close, but what we are doing is saying the guy who has an advantage in front will get even more of an advantage by letting him through, so it’s effectively all for the rich.” His comments take a slight jab below the belt at the overall state of racing in Formula One, but his thoughts are not far off of a solution that I would like to see. By having the two drivers missing (ignoring) the blue flags, it allowed for Verstappen to close in on first place. But more importantly, it put Hamilton in a position of having to navigate through lap traffic. A foreign thought to the front runners of F1.
Bottas shared a different viewpoint than Steiner as he struggled on fresh tires to catch the lapped car of Hulkenberg. The FIA offers drivers a gap of 1.2 seconds between cars before waving the blue flag to the slower car. Whether it was the turbulence from the car in front of the Mercedes who were having a tough stint on those tires, Bottas believed that Hulkenberg should have let him passed for the clean air and an unclogged track. Remember, a Ferrari was catching and applying pressure on him so to get passed Hulkenberg was a crucial part of his Grand Prix. Race director Charlie Whiting claimed that Hulkenberg was of no obligation to let him pass due to the inability of Bottas to catch the German and be within that 1.2-second threshold. I ask that if Hulkenberg was quicker, even if he is a lap down, should he have to slow his race pace to let a car on the lead lap pass?
Two scenarios on the same track, on the same day, with two different questions but one easy solution. Growing up at the local dirt tracks of the South, the blue flag signified that the leaders are coming and you were to hold your line. You kept your pace and let the leaders find their way around you. We see this model in series like IMSA, NASCAR, and IndyCar, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t work in Formula One. As fans, we don’t get to see the leader miraculously carve their way through traffic or strategically picking their spots. Instead, we get Lewis Hamilton begging for the blue flags to be thrown and crying if lapped cars don’t get out of his way fast enough. Wouldn’t the pinnacle of racing innovation and design benefit from things that resemble racing?
Yeah, I believe so too.