Blue flags debate reveals F1′s problem

Two influential figures in Formula 1 have begun to argue in favour of getting rid of blue flags in F1. The problem is that neither appears to understand motorsport.

Both are businessmen who are in F1 to make more cash. They both also happen to be involved in F1 teams that are stuck at the back of the grid, so are more heavily disadvantaged by blue flags.

Tony Fernandes and Richard Branson are the ones calling for blue flags to be removed from the sport. But it’s funny, because I don’t remember Mr Branson being so concerned about blue flags not being “fun” enough when he was backing the championship-winning Brawn team last year.

The pair seem confused. They try to justify their stance by talking about how exciting it would be. Apparently it would increase overtaking! Er, no. Fans at home don’t think that Lewis Hamilton in 1st place is racing with Sakon Yamamoto in 21st place — because he isn’t! The idea that people would tune in for this, or derive entertainment from it, is nonsense.

Worst of all, an F1 without blue flags would be wide open to corruption. If you didn’t like the team orders controversy of Hockenheim, you had better cross your fingers that blue flags remain in F1. Because it would open up a situation that would be like team orders on steroids.

Take, for instance, the 1997 European Grand Prix. It is a weekend memorable for many reasons. How about that moment when Norberto Fontana, a lap down, held up Jacques Villeneuve but allowed Michael Schumacher to breeze by?

As Martin Brundle pointed out in his commentary as it happened, Fontana’s Sauber car was powered by a Ferrari engine. What a coincidence! Or was it? Nine years later, Fontana claimed that he was asked to do whatever he could to help Schumacher win the championship. It is an allegation that was denied by Jean Todt and Peter Sauber, but the suspicion remains.

Now let’s say — for the sake of argument — you have a backmarker team that is disgruntled with its current suppliers of engines and transmission systems. It is in negotiations with one front-running team to supply better engines, and another championship-leading team to supply a gearbox and hydraulic system. It might make the negotiations go more smoothly if the backmarker team could do certain things on the track to benefit particular front-running teams.

I’m not suggesting that any team would do that. But the scope would be there if any unscrupulous team wanted to do so.

It is true that backmarkers can be unfairly disadvantaged by blue flags. But this is an occupational hazard of motor racing. It is the case that the blue flag rules have become stricter in the past couple of decades or so. It may be a good idea to relax the rules a little. But blue flags have been a part of motor racing since the 1910s.

To talk about “the days of Ken Tyrrell” is a bit misguided in my view. In those days, blue flags may have worked well as a gentleman’s agreement. But that was in the days when there were still gentlemen in the sport. Today it’s full of money men constantly looking after their self interest.


  1. I totally agree.

    I understand that a few times the blue flag rule has been dodgy (Davidson and Massa in Monaco ’07) but for the whole, it definitely needs to stay.