It doesn’t seem to matter which form of track racing motor sport it is, what sort of race is going on, it is the poor old “back-marker” who usually comes in for criticism.
More often than not he, or she, is roundly lambasted by the leaders for not getting out of the way.
It could be Joe Bloggs in his clapped out Honda Civic in a club race or Esteban Gutierrez in his Haas F1 car.
At the recent Virgin Australia Supercars event at Sandown the eventual winner, Garth Tander, had plenty to say, and complain, about drivers ignoring the blue flags.
Rarely a Formula 1 race goes by without all of the faster drivers complaining about “traffic” and “slow back-markers”. Lewis Hamilton is often a great source of quotes about this and his on-board camera occasionally captures the odd hand gesture given to the errant driver.
These blue flags of course are the flags that have been traditionally shown to slower drivers to warn them of an approaching faster car and to tell the driver to move out of the way.
In Formula 1, if a driver ignores three waved blue flags in a row, or in this more-modern age blue flashing lights, he is likely to be penalised. Occasionally there are calls to abandon the use of the blue flag and let the faster drivers cope with the situation and I think nowadays, especially in F1, there is some merit to those calls.
With modern racing cars, almost any amount of information can be passed directly to the driver to appear on his steering wheel-mounted dashboard and although any telemetry from the team pits to the car is strictly banned, the governing body, be it the FIA, NASCAR, IndyCar etc., has the ability to send messages to all of the cars relating to marshalling issues, including the electronic dashboard equivalent of the flags.
The actual flags, held or waved by trackside marshals, like the seemingly superfluous pit boards shown by the teams to the drivers as they pass the pits, are still needed in case of radio failure (surprisingly common) or the failure of the on-board electronics (also surprisingly common).
It is now my contention that the blue flag system should be abolished or, at the very least, heavily modified.
I do accept that in certain circumstances the waving of the flags is necessary. The Le Mans 24 hour race, with huge speed differentials at night and in the rain, is probably a good time to wave a blue flag at a slower car.
I am really talking here about the comparatively short track races we see in the likes of F1, Australian Supercars, IndyCar and GP2. If there is a battle for the lead, or the leader has made some sort of gap to those behind and they come up on back markers, it is usually because they have either the faster car or have driven well, usually both.
Often, with these slower cars having to almost drive off the road to allow faster cars through, their own lower order battle is compromised. Surely these slower cars are then just part of the hazards of driving to win? Almost like a chicane that has to be negotiated, a normal part of racing. For some time the fastest cars in Formula 1 have been designed to “optimise” their ability to work best when they are in clean air. In other words not following another car.
Win the pole position and win the race is the plan.
So the insistence that a slower car gets out of the way immediately simply helps those already fast cars to have a clean run without hindrance.
That then produces, sometimes, a pretty boring run for the fan, and as we have seen more and more of, the fan gives up watching. It would be a better watch if the faster car had to fight to overtake and fight for position.
Conversely, more severe penalties should be imposed on drivers deliberately holding up a faster car in order to help others on track or cruising to the finish.
A race is supposed to be about getting from start to finish in the fastest time and dealing with track conditions and circumstances along the way, and a leader should not be given a free passage.
We may also just get to see more excitement and overtaking.