THE CANADIAN Grand Prix ended in farce, but it could have been far more serious as fans streamed on to the track thinking the race was over. PETER COSTER reports:
LEWIS HAMILTON’S girlfriend waved the chequered flag for Sebastian Vettel with a lap still remaining in the Canadian Grand Prix.
It might be said she should have done it sooner. The race was a procession, with the positions on the podium the same as those on the starting grid.
The race finished in farce and what could have been a disaster with fans running on to the track while the cars were still racing.
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone would have been furious whereas new owners Liberty Media were merely dumbfounded.
As with the turnaround in the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park at the start of the season when Vettel dived into the pits and emerged in front of the field, no one had a satisfactory explanation.
In Melbourne, Vettel came out in front of race leader Lewis Hamilton as the field slowed under the Virtual Safety Car.
The VSC activates flashing signs and sends a digital readout to drivers telling them the time they must take in each section.
Under the real Safety Car, which has a human being behind the wheel, Vettel would have been forced to drop behind Hamilton.
Consider it a high-tech bungle. The Canadian Grand Pix finished in low-tech confusion when the flag to end the race was waved on lap 69 instead of 70.
Lewis Hamilton’s friend dropped the flag because she was told to. She was only the celebrity lap waver.
The official flag waver said later he thought the official timekeeper had told him the race was over.
But the official timekeeper said he thought the official flag waver was telling him the race was over.
The official flag waver then took the flag back from the supermodel and waved it on the 70th lap. This was worthy of the Keystone Cops, filmed by silent filmmaker Mack Sennett, who happened to be a Canadian.
Sebastian Vettel was as quick to pick up the mistake as he was in leading the race, radioing his pit, “Tell them not to wave the chequered flag when it’s not done yet.” He said later, “To have a race like we had today was unbelievable.”
The German kept racing, as did Daniel Ricciardo in fourth place. The Australian driver set the fastest lap of the race, but had it taken from him because the flag had already been dropped.
This would have led to a monumental stuff-up had Vettel been passed on the last lap.
It is difficult to find any positives going into the European races.
The next three races are within a week of each other, starting with the French Grand Prix on June 14. Then follow the Austrian and British GPs.
Fans on social media appeared equally confused as to why Hamilton’s girlfriend was wearing what they thought was face paint.
The Canadian supermodel has a skin condition that is being promoted as “changing the face of fashion”.
Superstar Michael Jackson also suffered from vitiligo, which leaves white patches on the skin.
Winnie Harlow says she was bullied at school because of the condition and her high-profile appearance is leading to a better understanding of the disease.
Formula One is a sometimes bizarre world, but one that can be used to bring greater public attention to more than a car race.
Lewis Hamilton was not in sight to see the flag farce and finished fifth behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Valtteri Bottas finished second and would have been closer to Vettel had he not locked up his brakes in the latter stages of the race.
Hamilton’s engineer tried to hurry up the four-times world champion, saying, “It’s hammer time.” Hamilton could only say he was doing his best with what he had.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is concerned that Mercedes is no longer the dominant team in F1, with Hamilton slipping a point behind Vettel in the driver’s championship.
Red Bull has benefitted from upgrades from engine supplier Renault, but is considering putting Honda engines in its cars next season.
Honda supplies Red Bull’s Toro Rosso team whose drivers say they impressed with the latest upgrades.
Pierre Gasly finished 11th at the Circuit Gilles de Villeneuve and said he would have managed only 14th with the old engine.
New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley was also enthusiastic about the Honda engine after qualifying 12th on the grid, four places ahead of Gasly.
But all that came undone on the first lap when Hartley was pushed into the barriers by Williams driver Lance Stroll.
Hartley’s car reared up under the impact and was in danger of landing upside down as it slewed along the fencing.
It was also an early end to the race for Stroll, the son of a billionaire father who bought the 19-year-old’s way into the Williams team.
This was obvious when Claire Williams, the daughter of Williams owner Sir Frank Williams, said after the race that Hartley had caused the accident by crashing into Stroll.
Hartley was between Stroll and a hard place on the outside of turn five with nowhere to go. Williams, who is the team’s deputy principal, was clearly talking with her hand in Stroll pere’s pocket.
Big Daddy Stroll is an important man in the French province of Quebec and Claire Williams must have thought it was better to blame Hartley.
The New Zealander is in danger of being dropped by the team after successive retirements.
He was put out of the Monaco Grand Prix by Sauber driver Charles Leclerc, who punted the Torro Ross driver off the track after a brake failure.
Hartley proved himself as a world champion in endurance racing, winning the World Endurance Championship with former Red Bull driver Mark Webber in 2015 and again last year and deserves a second chance.
The Canadian race saw the re-emergence of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after a series of crashes and retirements.
The Dutch driver was third in Montreal after dominating the practice sessions.
He said before the race that he would “head-butt” the next journalist who asked him about his crashes.
A wry grin was slow in appearing. Daniel Ricciardo was left with nowhere to go in Azerbaijan when Verstappen darted to each side of the track to block the Australian from passing.
Verstappen also crashed in practice at Monaco. The Dutch driver has signed a three-year contract at Red Bull, whereas Ricciardo is out of contract this year and is looking for a car that will win him a world championship.
A move for Ricciardo at the end of the year has been further complicated by the announcement that Red Bull will change from Renault to Honda power. Honda is improving, but is far from being able to provide an engine that will match Mercedes or Ferrari.
Toto Wolf doesn’t want to talk about the possibility of Ricciardo going to Mercedes because he wants to keep Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas focused at Mercedes where they are out of contract at the end of the season.
There is still the prospect of Ricciardo going to Ferrari, where former world champion Kimi Raikkonen is out of contact this year.
At 38, “The Iceman” is the oldest man in Formula One and may be looking at retirement.
Author: Peter Coster
PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.