It wasn’t surprising that Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel took the checkered flag first on Sunday at the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix. What was surprising was when he took it, since a major miscommunication led the flag to be waved before the finish and effectively end the race more than five miles early.
The flag waved on lap 69 of 70, which is a joke in itself, and didn’t wave for the first time in front of race leader Vettel like it should have on the next lap. Race stewards treated the checkered flag like a red flag after the fact, reverting the finishing order to the order at lap 68. Even then, another checkered flag waved for Vettel when he actually finished the scheduled race distance.
While it was obvious to drivers, commentators and viewers that something had gone wrong, it wasn’t clear what happened. Plenty of people blamed Canadian model Winnie Harlow for the mishap, since she was the one who waved the flag—even in the comments section of an Instagram post in which she said she was just following instructions on when to wave it.
But F1 race director Charlie Whiting said it was all due to a miscommunication with local officials, according to Autosport. Whiting said he thinks the official got confused by a television graphic logging lap 69 of 70, thinking it was showing laps completed instead of the lap drivers were on. The latter was true.
“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,” said Whiting.
“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.
“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.”
Whiting said he thinks that’s a common mistake outside of people who work regularly with F1, according to Autosport. He said F1 needs to do a better job of briefing the local people working the race, since the series is “dealing with a lot of human beings, different countries, [and] different languages.”
Even when the checkered waved early and other marshals around the track were waving congratulatory flags for the winner, drivers seemed to not slow down because something was up. But there were a couple of close battles that could’ve been affected by the mishap, even if Vettel was in his own zip code for the win.
Max Verstappen was about a second behind Valtteri Bottas for second place near the end of the race, and Lewis Hamilton was about the same interval behind fourth-place Daniel Ricciardo. Bottas and Ricciardo finished second and fourth, respectively, at lap 68 and in the running order after the actual 70 laps, too.
Regardless, mistakes happen. Plus, ending that parade a couple of laps early wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened on a Sunday afternoon.