Formula 1 race director Michael Masi has defended the decision to restart the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a late red flag stoppage, insisting it was in the “best interests of the sport”.
Race leader Max Verstappen suffered a tyre failure in the closing stages, initially deploying a safety car before a red flag suspended the race with three laps to go.
Once debris had been cleared from the pit straight, drivers completed a formation lap before taking another standing start for a two-lap sprint finish.
In previous instances when a red flag is shown after over 90% of the race distance has been completed usually results in a race not being restarted, but Masi felt there was no reason not to complete the final two laps despite the late stoppage.
“Thankfully for a number of years now, we’ve had the race suspension regulations,” Masi explained, as quoted by Motorsport.com.
“Going back many, many years ago, was when a race was red-flagged after a certain distance, it would go back two laps and so forth.
“Obviously with the race suspension element, yes there is an option to not restart. But within the timeframe and within the format of the regulations, we can restart. There was no reason not to.”
Verstappen’s left-rear tyre failure promoted Red Bull’s sporting director Jonathan Wheatley to suggest to Masi over team radio that the race should be halted to allow teams to change their tyres as a precaution.
Masi revealed prior to receiving Wheatley’s message he was already pondering whether to stop the race, as he assessed how long it would take to clear the debris from Verstappen’s high-speed crash.
“It was actually already on my mind,” Masi said. “From the perspective of what we communicate, we communicate to everyone equally.
“Looking with the number of laps that we had to go, the recovery that was being undertaken, and the fact that there was so much debris on the pit straight, at that point, it was in my opinion the best option to suspend the race, clean everything up, and then have a race finish.”
Verstappen wasn’t the only driver to suffer a tyre failure on the main straight, with Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll retiring in a carbon copy incident that resulted in a safety car but no red flag.
Masi explained why Stroll’s crash did not require the race to be red-flagged unlike Verstappen’s accident later in the race.
“Lance’s incident, obviously in the middle of the race, there was more than enough time and space on the right-hand side of the track when we were recovering it, and we were confident with the way that that could be cleared up in that fashion,” Masi said.
“As I said, when looking at everything, we weren’t confident that the recovery on the pit straight [from Verstappen’s crash] and the amount of debris that was everywhere could be cleared up in the appropriate time.
“So we thought it was in the best interests of the sport to suspend and then restart in that circumstance.”