Thursday, 29 November 2012

Yellow Lights, Green Flags

Just when we thought it was all over and done with, the 2012 F1 season springs another surprise on us. Yesterday, the BBC ran a story about how Ferrari were planning to protest Vettel's race result due to an unusual situation involving a yellow light. If you watch the footage posted on the BBC article, you can clearly see that the track lights are yellow, indicating that it is unsafe to overtake. Vettel passes these behind the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, however later he overtakes Vergne before reaching the next (green) light. This prompted an almighty row on Twitter, with people claiming that Vettel's pass was illegal, and so he should have a 20 second penalty added to his time - thus pushing him down to 8th and giving Alonso the championship title. Now, as you'd expect, I disagreed. There was other footage online which clearly showed Vettel overtaking AFTER a marshal had waved a green flag. Thus, the overtake was legal. Only this morning the FIA agreed with what many of us had been saying - Vettel's pass was legal, as flags take precedence over lights in terms of the track status. This clarification had been sought by Ferrari, as they had written to the FIA.

Now, this is another example of how things within sport - particularly F1 - can be grossly over exaggerated. The BBC had reported that Ferrari were 'considering' a protest, however it seemed that many people took it as read that Ferrari had already protested. Certainly, the BBC article made it appear as though the protest was inevitable. However, in my opinion a protest was highly unlikely for a few reasons. Firstly, the time. In the regulations, Ferrari only had until the 30th of November - tomorrow - to lodge a protest. This would therefore make any protest a snap decision, and this is quite a gamble considering the only evidence they had was a YouTube video. Second, protesting not only a race result, but a championship result three to four days after the final race would seriously damage the team's and the sport's reputation. If any protest were to be lodged, then it would have to be at the race circuit itself.

Obviously, it's not yet the 30th of November, meaning that theoretically we could still see a protest of some sort. However, it's highly unlikely that it would succeed. As I've already mentioned, flags are greater than lights. Even though we saw yellow lights on the side of the track and on the steering wheel of Sebastian Vettel, these are negated by the marshal waving the green flag. The main point of confusion to many people was the cockpit light, so let me explain. These lights are used to show the driver - and the driver alone - about the track status. All of the cars are fitted with these lights, and they can be red (to indicate that the race or session has been stopped), green (to show that the session is good for racing/hot laps), blue (to show that a faster car is overtaking) or yellow (to indicate that the driver should take care). The light on the cockpit changes colour as a driver passes a light on circuit. Thus, if the circuit's status goes from yellow to green, the light itself will only change once the driver passes the next light. So, what we saw with Vettel's light was a situation whereby the track was green, but he had not yet passed this next point and the light was yellow. Vettel knew that he was able to overtake from the fact that a green flag was being waved by a marshal at the side of the track.

Ferrari have sought clarification on this matter, as it still appears that people are unsure of what actually counts towards the track status - the flag, the lights or the cockpit lights. Charlie Whiting has previously stated that the first signal always counts. Thus, the first new signal was that of the flag - the green flag, not the yellow light. So, regardless of what the lights were doing, Vettel's pass was legal.

Another reason that I believe any protest would not succeed is the fact that the FIA and race stewards are usually pretty tight on overtaking under yellow flags, and tend not to let breaches slip. Thus, nothing was brought to the attention of the stewards, suggesting that the move was legal. During the race in Brazil, this was not the only time that the lights had been debated. Sky in particular were hooked on the idea that Vettel had apparently overtaken Kamui Kobayashi under yellow flags. Despite asking team principals and the fact that the FIA had not investigated, Sky would not let this idea go. The reality of that particular situation was that Vettel had gone past a yellow light, which was accompanied by a red and yellow flag - a flag used to indicate a slippery surface.

With so many journalists and media focusing on these particular incidents, it's easy to see why people got caught up in the idea that Vettel was not worthy of this title, or that he secured it under illegal means. However, what we have to remember is that throughout the entire season the FIA and race officials have known what they were doing with regards to the flags and track status, and it's not for individuals outside to say whether a pass was legal or illegal based only on a blurry YouTube video. The officials are able to see a lot more information that we have access to, and the Kobayashi pass is an example of this. While on the TV it looked like a yellow flag (thus an illegal pass), in reality the subtle addition of a red and yellow flag meant that Vettel was safe.

Hopefully Ferrari will not lodge a protest. It seems a little like being a sore loser to challenge something so long after the final race, and based on evidence which has been shown to be wrong. Also, I'm hoping that the race fans on Twitter can now let the issue of flags and lights drop. Vettel is a worthy champion, as would be Alonso had he scored more points over the year. All we now have to do is celebrate the entire grid's achievements of 2012, and look forwards to 2013, where I am sure more controversies will reign once more.