Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monza, 2019

The only thing the black-and-white flag adds is confusion


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The pivotal moment of the Italian Grand Prix came on lap 24 of the race.

This was not when Charles Leclerc squeezed Lewis Hamilton onto the kerb approaching the Roggia chicane, forcing the Mercedes driver onto the run-off and denying his attempt to take the lead. But a lap later, when the stewards showed him the black-and-white flag for the incident.

Many felt Leclerc had been treated leniently. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insinuated the stewards wouldn’t want to give him the kind of penalty Sebastian Vettel received in Canada. And who could blame them feeling that was in the cauldron of Ferrari fervour that is Monza.

Hamilton, who in Montreal showed keeps a fresh mental copy of the F1 rules and regulations, laid a specific charge at Leclerc as he resumed the chase in his W10. “He didn’t leave me a car’s width there. He pushed me off.”

Clearly, Hamilton was right. But whether Leclerc was required to leave him space is debatable.

The convention that a defending driver has to leave a car’s width for a rival dates back to a spirited battle between Hamilton and Michael Schumacher at this track eight years earlier. After that it was established that a driver who moves off the racing line and then moves back towards it must leave room for another car.

This was originally added to the F1 Sporting Regulations, then moved to the International Sporting Code, where it remains: “Any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position offline, should leave at least one car width between his own car and the edge of the track on the approach to the corner.”

In the case of Hamilton and Leclerc last weekend, did the Ferrari driver “defend his position offline”? If not, it therefore follows he was not required to leave Hamilton a car’s width.

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The footage of the incident indicates Leclerc followed a fairly standard trajectory through Curva Grande, then began crossing the track from left to right. Afterwards Hamilton made comparisons with Max Verstappen’s five-second penalty for failing to leave room for Valtteri Bottas last year, but on that occasion Verstappen made an unambiguous move off the racing line then back towards it.

Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Gasly/Magnussen incident was a “carbon copy”
Within a minute of the incident taking place, Leclerc was shown the black-and-white flag for it. But exactly how he transgressed wasn’t clear. When told he was being shown the recently-revived signal, Leclerc asked: “Why?” He received no reply.

The watching world was none the wiser. A week earlier, when Pierre Gasly was shown the black-and-white flag at Spa, race control flashed up a message explaining it was for “moving under brakes”. This time there was no such explanation.

Later, Ferrari told Leclerc “no moving under braking turn four”, which he denied doing. However it seems this was the true reason for the signal, not that Leclerc had failed to leave Hamilton space. FIA race director Michael Masi described the incident as “a carbon copy to what Pierre did last weekend in Spa.”

As covered here previously, Masi was the driving force behind the reintroduction of the black-and-white flag (also known as the ‘bad sportsmanship flag’, though we’re going to need a new name for that in the post-W Series era). But what is it actually achieving?

If Leclerc’s move was illegal, he should have been punished for it. If not, he should have been allowed to do exactly the same thing again. Waving the black-and-white flag at him for doing it suggests that repeating the same move would earn him a penalty, particularly when Masi has described it as ‘motorsport’s yellow card’.

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The matter is complicated further by the different roles Masi and the stewards occupy. It’s a common misconception that the race director decides penalties. They do not; that is the stewards’ job. But Masi has taken it upon himself to brandish the ‘unsportspersonlike driving’ flag (suggest better alternatives in the comments, please).

Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas, Monza, 2018
Hamilton said Verstappen’s penalty was a precedent
“It’s ultimately the stewards’ decision if someone gets penalised,” said Masi, “the black-and-white sits with me.”

So if a driver is shown the black-and-white flag for an incident, don’t assume they won’t also penalised for it. “If the stewards feel there’s more to it they absolutely have the capability of issuing a penalty,” Masi confirmed. “They could absolutely place that under investigation of their own volition without anything from me like anything else that happens during the race.”

Like any motorsport geek I do enjoy train-spotting the lesser-seen flags of the International Sporting Code. Who doesn’t love seeing them dust off the black-and-orange ‘meatball flag’ every now and then?

But the black-and-white flag is only introducing confusion. A move is either black or white – legal or not. This signal is meaningless, and that will be demonstrated as soon as a driver performs a legal move, is shown the black-and-white flag for it, and then repeats it anyway.

The ‘unsporting conduct’ flag (how about that one?) isn’t the motorsport equivalent of a yellow card, it’s the motorsport equivalent of an exhausted parent rolling their eyes and wagging a finger. Far from being a black-and-white matter, reviving it has just created more grey areas.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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142 comments on “The only thing the black-and-white flag adds is confusion”

  1. ‘unsportspersonlike driving’ flag (suggest better alternatives in the comments, please)

    How about the “driving etiquette warning” flag. If it catches on, i’ll keep one in my door bin and wave it around like a mad man every commute into and out of Cambridge…

    1. undriverlike driving flag

      1. Get out of jail free flag

        Although that seems awfully familiar

        1. That’s just not Cricket flag.

      2. (groans) this feels like pandering. Is anyone who matters meaningfully offended by the existing term.

        1. It’s not about being offended, its about being accurate. It’s only the right wing tabloids that try and turn it into something to be offended by or not. I produce TV – we use the term Camera Operator rather than Cameraman now and it works a treat.

        2. No, but I am deeply offended by the thought that it needs changing!
          We shall be covering piano and table legs again if this ultra pc flake world is allowed to continue.
          Some while back a UK county council of indeterminate hue, apparently identified over 20 different genders! My question would be do you have over 20 separate lavatories for them to use then? (That’s “rest rooms” for American readers. One has visions of sofas and armchairs, but why they want to rest in the toilets is a mystery, seems very unsavoury.)

          Sportsmanship falls in the same area as chairmanship. Madam Chairman was always the correct form of address for a female chairperson. Sportsmanship is a recognised concept of fair play. Having said this one can recall Prost/Senna and others shoving each other off with no penalty, but with with very real probable danger, gravel or catch fencing.
          The American definition of fair moves ie “who moved first is in the right”, seems to cover most eventualities, we should adopt that and do away with everything else, no need to leave car’s width, on line off line, it sorts itself out.

    2. I’m sure I’ve previously heard it referred to as the ‘driving standards’ flag. That seems adequately gender-neutral to me.

      1. How about home track advantage flag.
        This way its clear to the offending driver that the same actions anywhere else will be penalised.

  2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    12th September 2019, 12:35

    I’ll be honest it feels like a kop out for me. A safety net for not upsetting the casual fans like what happened at Canada. I’m not a big fan of the throw away ‘let them race’ argument either, we have seen unacceptable overly aggressive driving with a lot of the younger drivers, instigated by the likes of Max and Kevin which set a precedent on some dubious defensive driving and weaving which has become the standard. I also don’t like this unofficial rule that if a driver is on the outside of you on corner exit, you have a free pass to run them off the track, whether avoidable or not.

    1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      12th September 2019, 12:38

      I would like to add generally I’ve thought the stewards have had a good handle of things over the last couple of season. A few decisions aside. If a mistake is genuine from a lock up or late braking then that is more understandable for me. When it’s contact through aggressive behaviour or misjudgement that should be punished.

    2. That weaving has got to go, it is dangerous and will cause serious crash one of these days. Even in MotoGP weaving attracts a massive penalty(Mir was given 6 place gird penalty for weaving at Aragon GP 2017) and even in F1 and lower classes there should attract a strict penalty to avoid any untoward accidents. But since F1 absolutely loves knee jerk reactions unless we see a major accident due to weaving there wont be any action taken on it and drivers like Verstappen and Leclerc will continue to do it in “defence” and that whole argument of “let them race” has gone too far just like dirty driving we have seen in recent days. Unlike Charlie Whiting it seems like Masi is setting very dangerous precedents and it wont be too long before we see another near fatal accident.

    3. Agreed on all accounts ! I have nothing about the black and white flag for limit cases, but it is clearly not the way it is used.

      About drivers on the outside pushed off the track, I hate it too. It cuts some great battles short and is inconsistent with the (also unwritten) rule about the corner entry. I am a proponent of writing down the following very simple rule. Note that in one sentence it covers both corner entry and corner exit, so it must be best as per Occam’s razor ;-)

      “At places where the racing line goes from one side of the track to the other, a driver is entitled claim the racing line as long as he/she is at least half a car’s length ahead.”

    4. I’d imagine that, like in football, there can be a straight red card for a major transgression. But for minor transgressions where you’re like ‘is that really bad enough to warrant a 5 second penalty?’ (like, imo, Leclerc’s move), there’s this black and white flag.

      1. I’d agree @hugh11 and mostly thought that apart from how it was handled last weekend, it seemed a useful concept, except for

        “It’s ultimately the stewards’ decision if someone gets penalised,” said Masi, “the black-and-white sits with me.”

        As @keithcollantine notes, that means it’s little to nothing to do with what the stewards decide! So it’s more like a linesman raising a flag, with the referee then looking to see whether to do something than a yellow card.

        Since we already have video and telemetry (and maybe soon more corners with electronically guarded lines), it seems to add little but possible conflicts between it and the stewards.

    5. @rdotquestionmark: Agree. It fits the classic FIA political solution to a safety problem. Scold the drivers, but keep the ‘hard racing’ TV ratings.

    6. Look, only British arguing on what is happened. Entire rest of the world is ultimately agrees on this flag. This situation was completely different from Vettel vs Hamilton back in Canada. Back then that penalty was justified and most of the world agreed with that. This time Leclerc was ahead and it’s not his fault that cerb had a little bump. He left Hamilton enough space.

      1. @regs

        You are clearly wrong – he did NOT leave Hamilton enough room. Multiple camera angles show this. Additionally, your argument about Leclerc bring ahead is silly: the fact he was marginally ahead and still moving across meant they were interlocking wheels – at which point Lewis couldn’t back out even if he wanted to.

        As for your claim that “most of the world agrees”, unless you have any evidence at all to support that opinion I suggest everyone ignore it.

        1. Schumacher vs Hamilton at the same corner in 2011. Leclerc was a dirty driver who should have been penalized but since all the moves were deemed legal by stewards expect Max to dish out similar driving techniques in coming days and when there is crash I hope Masi and his stewards have good hindsight not to penalize Max or others.

      2. @regs, on the contrary, it is not just the British press that have raised questions over Leclerc’s behaviour in that race – the press in other nations have also raised questions over his defence.

        Whilst the Italian press have heaped praise upon Leclerc, it is worth noting that even they have stated that Leclerc’s behaviour was pretty borderline. When even the media organisations that are probably some of the most biased in Ferrari’s favour have been suggesting that his behaviour was questionable, trying to claim that it is just the British press that are biased against Leclerc doesn’t really seem to hold up.

    7. @rdotquestionmark
      So, Verstappen and Magnussen are t blame for weaving and stuff?
      But, but, but Lewis got a black and white flag in 2011 for weaving…..
      Guess it must be Verstappens fault.

  3. Agree. Like this, the black-and-white flag works as a one-time infraction pass. If something is penalty-worthy, then a penalty should be given. If not, then just let the race continue.

    In my opinion, The black-and-white flag should be shown only for those 3-strikes kind of infractions like abusing track limits or cutting the pit-entry/exit lines when they are not supposed to.

  4. Jose Lopes da Silva
    12th September 2019, 12:46

    People claimed for the “let them race”. Now they´re having hard racing. You get what you vote for, no matter how uninformed the previous debate was.

    1. Was going to say basically the same. People went on and on about penalties and hard racing. But we can’t just have the drivers doing anything they want, consequences be damned.
      The flag seems like a sensible solution. Wave it on moves that get too close to the line of infraction, just not quite over it.
      Of course, now we’re discussing if it should have been a flag or a penalty, but what can you do? People will discuss and argue things. That doesn’t mean the stewards having an extra “tool” at their disposal is a bad thing.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        12th September 2019, 14:50

        Yeah, I liked the flag. As I said elsewhere, the public (and even the drivers?) is not sure if a driver having another one side-by-side has to give him space. Leclerc was not moving under braking, he was in the normal racing line; but shouldn’t he give space to a rival that is side-by-side?

        In the end, Roggia is the worst overtaking spot at Monza because is the only of 4 major braking areas where the normal racing line is crossing the track, so any driver trying to overtaking there has to consider all this.

        1. Exactly this, Hamilton should have known that overtaking there is not a thing. By going off he ruined his chances. He could have just stayed close by keeping within DRS to not fall behind on the straights, LeClerc will have to take a defensive stance, while Mercedes meanwhile play the Bottas card, who — if the team had just postponed his stop by 1 lap — might have had a stop under VSC.

          In the end I don’t think the black-and-white flag was necessary. It can be a useful tool if you want to punish offences that are ‘okay to do once, but not twice’, but that is rather obnoxious. It seems more like an instrument to cover their arses against public outrage by the fans of either driver and those who hate rules in general.

    2. Yes that is the impression, but don’t forget what “people” means. Some people claimed for “let them race”, other ones claimed for penalties with clearer rules.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        12th September 2019, 14:44

        Indeed. The “people” shouting “let them race” shouted louder.

    3. If drivers are allowed to push an attacking driver off track on corner entry or weave to block them, you either get less racing or more accidents. But fair enough. Let’s see what happens.

      As for the B=W flag, it’s completely meaningless. Drivers will just go, ‘oh look, there’s Masi waving is black and white flag.’ What matters is whether the stewards penalize them or not. If that fact is completely unconnected to Masi telling people to wave flags, and the flag waving has no consequence at all, as at Monza, it’s utterly, completely, entirely and wholly pointless.

  5. A move has to be either legal or non legal as if there is confusion between the two and if a driver thinks that there is the possibility that they might get away with a unsporting move then it causes more danger to themselves and other drivers which is a place not to go in any motor sport as safety is a big key factor.
    Why introduce the Halo to improve drivers safety and then bring in a rule that compromises drivers safety.

    1. I don’t know. The move in question, for example: It was pretty on the edge of being unacceptable. However, i feel like it should be taken into account that move was against Lewis, who has shown time and time again that he won’t refrain from pulling very hard moves. So, if you are up against him, its basically a choice of forcing him off or being forced off by him. Same goes for Verstappen. Probably also Magnussen. TLDR i think the stewards should also take into account who is fighting.

      1. The last thing we all need is the stewards to take into account who’s driving when issuing penalties.

        1. Exactly thats crazy you judge the action not the person.

          1. Agree, the stewards need to officiate the driving – judging the drivers is what the internet is for.

      2. @mrboerns, no, that is a terrible idea – as a matter of principal, the rules should be applied evenly and without prejudice to every individual irrespective of who they are.

  6. Agreed. The handling of that incident sends the message that it’s okay to push someone off, as long as you only do it once. And that’s a dangerous precedent.

  7. I don’t have a problem with the flag in principle but the fact that Leclerc then went on to cut the chicane and move in the braking zone afterwards shows it isnt really a yellow flag at all.

    On the strength of it’s effectiveness in Monza I propose it be named the As You Were flag.

    1. Leclerc then went on to cut the chicane

      They looked at that and deemed he didn’t gain an advantage.

      1. @keithcollantine I’m not sure I totally buy that. His lock up seemed pretty identical to Hamilton’s lock up a few laps later. The difference is, after Hamilton’s little jink to the right he selected the escape road, instead of cutting the corner cutting him significantly more time than Leclerc lost. Nothing in Leclerc’s incident makes me think he couldn’t have made the escape road.

        1. Knowing that Leclerc did that a few laps before and that he hasn’t got any penality, why hasn’t Hamilton choosen to do the same ?
          He wouldn’t have loss more time.
          He has made a choice.
          It’s his responsability.
          So why complain ?
          He could do the same as Leclerc, he hadn’t.
          End of the story.
          What bothers me here is that Hamilton complains a lot “blablabla rules, and stuff”, but he did used the limits of the rules before.
          Rosberg can tel it for exemple at Canada, Barhein, Austin.
          Hamilton didn’t seem to be bothered by pushing someone aside at this time.

          What about when he fought Schumacher at Monza in 2011 ?
          Schumacher was harsh with him too.
          He could have remember it and know that he would happen again …

          1. Lewis battles with Rosberg were fair.

            Canada in 2014 it was Rosberg who forced Lewis off the circuit and also cut the last chicane
            Bahrain at Turn 5 Lewis was ahead and on the racing line its up to Rosberg to see it through or back out
            Austin at the start at Turn 1 Lewis was ahead and on the racing line its up to Rosberg to see it through or back out.

            The 2011 Schumacher incident was totally different because Schumacher was defending aggressively and made so many double defensive moves that the FIA did nothing until they contacted RB who told Schumacher to let Lewis pass before Ascari

      2. Under the banner of “let them race”, I’d like to see racing under the guidelines of “no harm, no foul”, but if there is harm of any sort, the offending driver can only finish behind any car they have harmed.

  8. If you ask me the black and white is exactly what F1 needs. It doesnt replace whether the stewards issue a penalty, it complements it. The description that Masi uses, similar to a yellow flag in football, is spot on. A yellow flag in soccer is a formal warning for a substantial foul, but the player that commits the foul is effectively allowed to play on. Same goes for drivers here. The flag is also for those grey areas, where a driver may be very close to committing a foul (or indeed right on the line of whats acceptable) but is allowed to continue.

    The real advantage of showing a driver the black and white flag rather than issuing a penalty is that it introduces discretion into the mix, without excluding the potential for a penalty.

    If Leclerc was issued a time penalty, as Vettel incurred in Canada, we would have been robbed of a brilliant race in Monza. The tension that came with seeing whether Leclerc could hold off the two Mercedes drivers for some 40 odd laps after the pit stops made the race absolutely riveting, and probably one of the best races of the season. If Leclerc had been slapped with a 5s penalty it would have been a massive anti-climax, and there would be no point watching the rest of the race.

    1. It isn’t really the same as football.
      A yellow card in football is clearly associated with breaking the rules, and except in a few cases (e.g. when the ball is out of play) it is on top of a punishment (in the form of a free kick). It is also always a punishment in favour in the opposition which is only 1 team.
      As noted, if the move is illegal it should come with a punishment. If the move Leclerc did was illegal, and he did it again to Bottas and was punished, Bottas would (probably) have gone onto win the race. But why should Bottas get “retribution” but not potentially Hamilton?

      1. It is like football because the yellow card is separate to whether there is a penalty or free kick, it is a final warning and in football it means that player has to play more carefully for the rest of the game, without actually affecting the result. Back to the F1 I understand why it was used here, in my opinion not worthy of a penalty on it’s own

    2. Agree 100% with this. I have to laugh at someone above saying an incident is black or white, legal or not legal. F1 is not a game of chess, there’s a whole heap of subjectivity to many of these incidents. The Max/Leclerc incident in Austria was right up there as one where people had radically different opinions based on viewing the exact same footage. Heck even I had varying opinions based on what camera angle I watched, what freeze frame I looked at and even playing the footage back at different speeds gives you different perceptions of an incident!

      Yeah Leclerc pushed Hamiltonoff the track, just, but I felt not enough to warrant a significant penalty that would have stripped us of an engaging exciting race. For me the flag is a warning to reign it back in and not to push things so close to (or just over) the limit again and I think that is absolutely right. If Leclerc had forced Hamilton even wider then we’re into penalty territory, sure!

      There’s just too much gray space around the rules and how you implement them in a dynamic arena such as motorsport. Things change even every metre as you go around a track, what is the inside line can switch to the outside line in a matter of metres, as cars travel at 200mph. It’s dynamic and the rules cannot always be implemented in such a black and white way. For me if we actually want some element of excitement in this sport then what happened at Monza to me is just the right way to go about it. Otherwise no one will even bother trying last minute lunges or whatever. They’ll all give each other a super wide berth and that will be that. Who wants to watch that?

      1. Completely agree. There are incidents almost every race that are clearly not black or white. I could name many off the top of my head here and trigger heated debates amongst fans with polarised views.

        Often, you’ll get ex-driver pundits disagreeing and debating the subject for hours on TV. Further, you often hear commentators giving their opinions, only for the stewards to do the opposite a lap or so later. This shows that there are blurred lines and interpretation/opinion is a large factor in applying the rules – even the paid professionals cannot always agree.

        I think Masi may have done himself a misfavour by likening the black and white flag to a yellow card, however. This gives the impression that once is OK, twice and you’re penalised, as some comments have said. Masi has clearly stated, however, that this is not the case; an incident that receives a black/white may also be penalised. Similarly, there is no guarantee that two black/whites equals a penalty. I think this is great – it warns the drivers that their behaviour may lead to a penalty, and lets the drivers race hard without having to apply a hard, black-and-white interpretation of the rulebook.

        1. @daviddesu @barnstable1 – By ‘black or white,’ I don’t think Keith or at least some of the others mean that everything is always easily identifiable as legal or not. Discussion is often necessary. Rather, I think that they mean that at some point (immediately, post-discussion, post-review, post talking with drivers…) it is understood as legal or not. And that the same move made again would be ruled the same way.

          Meaning, the move that Leclerc made is either legal or not at the end of the day. And whatever decision is reached (in this case it appears it was deemed legal), that should be applied going forward. So, since it was legal, Leclerc or anyone else should be allowed to make the same move. If that’s the case, why the flag? That’s the issue.

          Decisions on legality may or may not be difficult. But it either is or isn’t. I think that is the argument being made.

          1. However, there are things which are not legal, yet are not punished. For instance, cutting corners and leaving the track are only punished of the stewards feel an advantage has been gained. If a driver gains a place by leaving the track, they can avoid any penalty by giving the place back.

            There are also times when stewards or the race director give a warning to the driver. These are not always broadcast.

            I believe that the black and white flag is potentially a good thing. If used to signify warnings, or in situations where something is on the verge of breaking the rules, I think the additional visibility is a good thing. I do have some caveats to this, though. Itt should always be accompanied by a reason so everyone knows why, and it should be issued by the stewards, not the race director.

            Someone has cut a corner a few times, bw flag to remind them. Someone has gained a place by leaving the track, bw flag to tell them to give the place back. Someone is battling right on the limit and pulling moves which get close to breaking the rules, bw flag to remind them not to go any further.

            On the subject of names, my wife came up with a great one which we will continue to use: the “Stop being a Richard!” flag (replace Richard with its shortened version beginning with D).

        2. “it warns the drivers that their behaviour may lead to a penalty, and lets the drivers race hard without having to apply a hard, black-and-white interpretation of the rulebook”

          Actually it allows the leading driver to race without worry of a penalty. The chasing driver now has another impediment to passing on top of all the existing ones.

    3. Yep, this post reflects my thoughts also.

  9. Agreed. The black & white flag was a cop out. I am not keen that these youngsters (Max & Leclerc) seem to have no regard to standard driving etiquette. I think a driver shows far more skill & class if they can defend/overtake without resorting to shoving their opponent off track. Unlike the hysterical masses, i wasn’t impressed by Leclerc’s drive in Italy

    1. @amam
      What does: “standard driving etiquette” mean?
      Driving like Schumacher, Hunt, Villeneuve (Giles), Ayrton, Prost, Alonso?

  10. Agreed. Whilst I have seen the black and white flag used well (the Aitken incident in the F2 sprint race – where Aitken was weaving to break the tow and so was given a black and white flag to show that this was not the correct interpretation of the rules). Likewise, as said above, with corner-cutting and so on. But to use it at times like this is just setting a dangerous precedent.