Formula One said it will review its procedures after the Canadian Grand Prix ended in confusion and embarrassment when a celebrity waved the chequered flag a lap too soon.
The gaffe did not affect the outcome of the race, which was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but the German said he was left double-checking his lap counter while checking in with his pit before carrying on to run the full 70 laps.
“Fortunately we had radio, fortunately I had the lap count in the car and the pitboard was accurate – but if you lose radio and maybe the pitboard is not there, then you back off,” said Vettel after notching his 50th career win.
“I was just worried, I told them also on the last lap, then people don’t jump on the track, waving flags and celebrating, because we’re still going at full pace.”
The official results were later determined based on the 68th lap to avoid any impact the early flag might have had.
Formula One race director Charlie Whiting said the error was caused by simple miscommunication between the official starter and crew in the starter’s tower, which resulted in model Winnie Harlow – a friend of Mercedes world champion Lewis Hamilton – waving the flag prematurely.
“It was a miscommunication between the start platform and the guy they call the starter here,” explained Whiting. “He thought it was the last lap and asked them at the top to confirm it, they confirmed it.
“They thought he was making a statement when in fact he was asking a question.
“He told the flag waver to wave it a lap early. It was as simple as that, it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was a celebrity flag waver.
“The celebrity was not to blame.”
Celebrities are often given the honour of waving the chequered flag at motor races, which has and have occasionally resulted in unintended flubs.
Brazilian soccer great Pele famously reacted too late when Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit in 2002, brandishing the flag instead as the later finishers appeared.
While the incident on Sunday produced shrugs and even a few chuckles there were also very real safety concerns, as course workers often come out of their safety areas to stand alongside the track waving flags.
“We need to review procedures and make sure we have a very simple procedure for every circuit,” added Whiting.
“We’re dealing with different human beings, different countries, different languages and it’s not always absolutely perfect. Of course we strive for perfection but fortunately there was no harm done as far as it affected the result.”