FIA race director Michael Masi opted to red-flag the Azerbaijan Grand Prix because he feared the race wouldn’t be able to start again if he didn’t.
When Lance Stroll suffered a tire failure and crashed on the pit straight on lap 30, the incident was covered by a Safety Car that stayed out for five laps. However, when Verstappen crashed with six laps remaining – also as the result of a tire failure on the pit straight – the race was red-flagged and a two-lap sprint from a standing start followed. Masi said the decision was not triggered by Red Bull suggesting a stoppage to allow all drivers to change tires.
“No, to be fair, it was actually already on my mind,” Masi said. “But obviously, from the perspective of what we communicate, we communicate to everyone equally, and 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, in my judgement, it was the best option to suspend the race, clean everything up, and then have a race finish.
“Thankfully, for a number of years now, we’ve had the race suspension regulations. 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. But 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, and there was no reason not to.”
Despite insisting the red flag was not for safety reasons due to the tire failures, Masi said the FIA will work with Pirelli to try and understand the cause of the issues that led to such high-speed crashes for Stroll and Verstappen.
“As with any and all tire failures that occur, Pirelli and the FIA, together with the support of the respective teams, will do a full and thorough investigation,” he said. “We’ll be gathering all the data, available footage and so forth, and have a look at what’s available, what can be learned, and obviously what the cause of those was.”