MONTREAL: Formula One race director Charlie Whiting has cleared model Winnie Harlow of any blame for the bungled finish to Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix that saw the chequered flag waved prematurely.
Whiting, said the confusion was caused by miscommunication among local officials.
This resulted in the flag being waved by Harlow as triumphant German Sebastian Vettel was completing only his 69th lap in his Ferrari, not the 70th and last.
Whiting said: "The chequered flag was shown a lap early because of a miscommunication with the guy that they call the starter here, who starts and finishes the races.
“He thought it was the last lap. He asked race control to confirm it. They confirmed it, but they thought he was making a statement when he was asking a question."
Whiting, the International Motor Racing (FIA) official in charge of all Formula One Grands Prix, added: "He just showed it a lap early, or he told the flag waver to show it a lap early, so it wasn't anything to do with the fact that it was a celebrity flag waver.”
As a result of the confusion, the drivers ignored the flag and continued for another lap as more flags were waved amid fears of a crowd invasion of the circuit.
The outcome was that though the race ran for 70 laps, the official result was decided by the places and times after 69 laps. This meant that Australian Daniel Ricciardo lost his race fastest lap – clocked on lap 70 – to his Red Bull team-mate Dutchman Max Verstappen, who finished third behind Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes.
There were no positional changes in the top 10 at the finish.
Whiting said that a similar mishaps had occurred in the past with celebrity flag-wavers including Pele, who was too late at the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix. He said procedures would be reviewed.
“Of course, it is just a simple miscommunication, a very regrettable one of course, but we’re dealing with a lot of human beings, different countries, different languages, and it's not always absolutely perfect.”
He said he had told the teams to continue to race until the end of lap 70 to complete the race, but added that the situation was made worse by the marshals believing the race had ended and waving their flags.
“That added to the confusion,” he said. “Sometimes marshals wave all their flags to congratulate the winner and some were doing that because they thought the race had finished.
“If they had started to go on the track, which I believe has happened in the past… That’s something we have to make sure we can take care of.”
Vettel won Sunday’s race in dominant fashion from pole position to record his 50th win and move one point clear of defending four-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes at the top of the drivers’ title race. Hamilton finished fifth.
While Vettel and Ferrari rejoiced in their first Montreal win since 2004, which ended Hamilton and Mercedes’ three-year supremacy at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the Englishman, hit by engine problems, remained defiant about his title defence.
“I am still here to win and I still believe we can win,” he said, shrugging off the engine-cooling problems that required an early pit-stop and ruined his race.
“I have complete confidence in my guys and I am putting my energy into it. We have potential in this car and there is a long way to go.”