The revival of the black-and-white flag and the aggressive driving style of Charles Leclerc against Lewis Hamilton in Italy have been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks.
“We know what we can do and what we get the flag for. I’m not against it. It’s good that it’s clearly regulated what’s allowed and what’s not,” says Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in favour of the new interpretation of the rules.
The black and white flag was returned after nine years and shown at the Belgian Grand Prix for the first time since the 2010 Malaysia Grand Prix, similar to a yellow card in football.
In the Monza race, the returned flag was used again as Leclerc defended himself hard against rivals Hamilton for the lead. “I like hard racing. If you compare Monza with last year, the rules have certainly changed a bit. We’re going harder now, that’s a good thing.”
While Leclerc was only shown the flag as a warning for pushing Hamilton to the absolute limit in Italy, Verstappen was punished in 2018 with a five-second penalty for similar behaviour against Valtteri Bottas. “They’re really doing everything they can to ruin the racing,” raved the Red Bull driver at the time.
Already since the judgement in Austria – Verstappen was not punished for pushing Leclerc off at turn 3 – race control has been more relaxed with disputed manoeuvres in the sense of the motto “let them race”. The Dutchman believes that the drivers will take advantage of this interpretation.
Himself, too? “Everyone,” replies the 21-year-old. After all, the black-and-white flag now offers more leeway. Instead of being immediately threatened with a penalty, the drivers are shown the yellow card first. Only when another tricky manoeuvre is carried out is a harsher intervention taken.
“I think it is very clear what is acceptable. We had a discussion about it at the drivers’ meeting,” reveals McLaren-Rookie Lando Norris. “I think that all drivers know exactly what is meant. In principle, we can drive a little harder against each other.”
“We get a warning that we’re driving very aggressively. If you repeat that, you may be punished.” confirms Mercedes Valtteri Bottas.
“They made it clear that Charles’ maneuver was at its limit in Monza, but if a similar offence was committed, the flag was shown first and not punished immediately. That’s the limit.
“Every track is different, every incident is different, every driver is different. You have to judge each one by the facts.” says FIA race director Michael Masi.
In general, the Australian is interested in setting the limits together with the drivers and teams. “I’ve determined where the limits are for me and the drivers have agreed in the end that we will continue to work together to determine these limits in their opinion. Perhaps a breath of fresh air when considering the old ways of Whiting, God rest his soul.
“From my personal point of view, I said that I wanted to work with them, including all the teams, to have a common point of view”. Masi says.
By the end of the season it will therefore be clear where the boundaries lie and where grey areas hide. The black and white flag was a good first step.
“It’s just another public way to warn. It used to be done one-to-one with the team via pit radio, now everyone knows.”
Masi explains that the most important thing for him is to get an overall picture of what which party wants. “I’m not in favour of saying, ‘That’s the way it is now’. This is my first year. It’s about working with everyone on it.” He didn’t expect so much to be said about the flag: “It’s not a new invention. It seems that everyone is in favour of the initiative.”
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