Wanna Flag? Part 5 - The Flags and What They Mean
Now that you have set up your corner station, taken the flags out of the flag bag and made sure that they are in good condition and none are missing, it is time to position them for use. The yellow, white and blue (actually blue with a diagonal yellow stripe) flags will be used the most so they are positioned close to where the flaggers will stand. The surface flag (red alternating with yellow stripes) is kept nearby for quick access. The red and black flags can be placed a little further away, but still need to be reached quickly when called for by Control. Remember that the flags are your way of communicating with the drivers. The flags displayed give information about events happening in the sector from your flag station to the next flag station. Thus, a flag is never displayed for something in front of you, no matter how close it is to your flag station. Each flag, and the way it is displayed, has a special meaning.
The first flag you will use on any given weekend is the white flag which is held by the blue flagger. It is displayed standing (that is, stationary or not waved) at each station for the first lap of the first practice or qualifying session for each race group to let the drivers know the location of the flag station. However, for the rest of the event, it means that a slow moving vehicle is on track. It may be a race car limping back to the pits with a mechanical problem or an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance, wrecker or fire/rescue vehicle. It could even be the worker transport vehicle doing a snack run during a victory lap. It is displayed standing, two stations prior to the slow moving vehicle. For this reason, it is important to indicate to Control that a white flag is displayed. The call should be very brief and recognition is not required from control, “Station 8 is white for wrecker on course”. This tells Station 7 to put out their white flag too, a reaction that is assumed by Control and need not be reported on the radio. As the wrecker passes Station 9, their communicator will say, “Station 9 is white for wrecker”. This tells Control that the wrecker has made it to Station 9 and also tells Station 7 that they can drop their white flag. The slow moving vehicle is then followed around the course with what is called “trailing white flags” at the two stations just prior to where the slow vehicle is at any given time. These white flags tell the driver, “Caution, you are approaching a slow moving vehicle (in this example a wrecker) and may need to adjust your speed and line accordingly”. Drivers are allowed to pass such vehicle. However, when that slow moving vehicle comes to a stop the white flag is withdrawn and the vehicle is covered by the appropriate use of the yellow flag.
The next flag is the yellow flag which has several meanings depending on how it is displayed. The yellow flagger is looking down track, with his/her back to traffic, and must be able to see the entire sector from his/her flag station to the next station. A standing or stationary yellow flag, held with both hands over one’s head, means, “Caution, danger, slow down, NO PASSING from the flag to the site of the incident”. The fact that it is standing also tells the driver that there is no obstruction on the racing surface, however there is a hazard in the area. It could be a car just off course or an emergency vehicle or corner worker attending to a disabled vehicle. The fact that there is no passing allows the drivers to slow down without fear of being overtaken and losing track position. Once the yellow goes out, all workers on station should be looking for passes under the yellow, which will be reported to control and the stewards. If the incident (for instance a disabled vehicle) is, at the discretion of the stewards not considered to be a hazard, and will be left in that location for the remainder of the session, the standing yellow flag will be held for two laps and then withdrawn. That vehicle has now become a part of the course.
A waved yellow flag means, “Great danger, slow down, be prepared to stop, NO PASSING from the flag to the incident.” The fact that the flag is waved also tells the driver that there is an obstruction on the racing surface and that evasive action will most likely be necessary. It could be a car or a large portion of a car such as a nose or rear cowling. There may also be stopped emergency vehicles on the track. The practice of “protecting” a corner worker responding to a vehicle that is off the course by upgrading from a standing yellow to a waving yellow is inappropriate, unless the worker is indeed on the track surface. In either case, a mere flag can never protect a worker.
The new flagger reminder for when to wave, or not wave, the yellow flag is, “Waving on the paving; standing in the grass…do not pass”.
During a race, double standing yellow flags may be displayed at ALL stations only at the order of the operating steward via Control. This may also be referred to as a “full course yellow”. Two yellow flags are displayed side by side by holding the sticks together in one hand and the free edge of both flags in the other. The flags can be stabilized and made easier to hold by rolling the flags one turn onto the sticks. Double standing yellow at every station tells the driver that “the entire course is under a caution condition, SLOW DOWN, NO PASSING of other competitors”. A pace car may be deployed to control the speed of the field. Passing of the pace car may take place only by a wave-by from the passenger in the pace car. This will be done until the leader is behind the pace car. Cars may cautiously pass emergency vehicles and cars that are disabled and cannot maintain the pace, as indicated by a raised arm on the part of the slow driver. At the site of the incident, one flag may be held stationary and the other waved to indicate an obstruction on the track. Double standing yellow flag condition will also be used, with or without a pace car, during pace laps before the start of a race or a re-start.
In SCCA club rules, the green flag is used to indicate that the race is underway and it is displayed only by the starter. It indicates that the course is clear. In certain Pro events, where FIA and Unified North American Flagging rules are employed, green flags are also displayed at all stations for the first lap after the start (or re-start) of a race. Likewise, a green flag is displayed at a station immediately after a station that is displaying a yellow flag to indicate that the course is clear. In such cases, it also delineates the end of the no-passing zone in distinction to the site of the incident as used in SCCA club rules.
The blue flagger is positioned facing up-track, looking right at the yellow flagger and at the on-coming traffic. THE PRIME RESPONSIBILITY OF THE BLUE FLAGGER IS TO WATCH THE BACK OF THE YELLOW FLAGGER. If you are the yellow flagger and your blue flagger grabs you, don’t resist. Go with him to safety. It takes too much time to tell someone to move and then wait for their reaction, which is usually to turn around and look at what is about to hit your station. You can’t outrun a race car. Better to drop behind the safety of the guard rail which will also protect you from debris that will continue at the car’s speed after impact occurs.
The blue flag (actually blue with a diagonal yellow stripe) tells the driver that, “another competitor is following you very closely and is trying to overtake you, CHECK YOUR MIRRORS”. During practice and qualifying sessions this flag is used liberally. During a race, however, it is only used to indicate to the back of the field that the leaders are about to overtake. Thus it is seldom used for the first half of a race, unless there are cars of different classes with wide speed differentials in the same race group. Also, occasionally, a very fast car will start from the back of the grid, either for mechanical reasons or penalty. In such cases, use of a blue flag is appropriate. Most seasoned flaggers will agree that blue flagging is the most challenging and fun flag position on a corner. It requires concentration to memorize the faster and slower cars and estimate the closing speed of two cars to determine if a blue flag is appropriate. Timing of the blue flag is everything. It must be given well before the turn-in point for your corner. Once the driver has initiated turn-in, his eyes are focused on the apex and he is committed to that corner. He will never see your blue flag. This is especially important for corners with major overtaking areas (heavy braking zones) such as Station 2 at Lime Rock and Station 3 at NHIS.
The surface condition flag (yellow with vertical red stripes) is displayed standing (never waving) for a slippery surface condition on the track. Most commonly, it represents oil but could easily be water, fuel, dirt, gravel, sand, grass, mud or any other substance, including small car parts that can be driven over, or even a cone. Larger parts should be covered by the appropriate yellow flag. The surface flag, often called debris or oil flag, tells the driver, “Caution, there is something on the track that you can drive over but it will likely affect the adhesion of your tires and you may want to slow down a bit and/or look to avoid it”. The surface flag is displayed at the discretion of the workers on a given corner. Control is notified because the condition may exist at more than one station (eg. an oil stripe). Under racing conditions, the surface flag is withdrawn when there is an improvement in the condition or after two laps, whichever comes first. After two laps all drivers should be aware of the situation, and the surface flag may be needed again to indicate a new surface condition.
The black flag (solid black) may be displayed at all stations under a condition known as “black flag all”, only when called for by the stewards via control. It will often be displayed with an “ALL” sign at Start/Finish and at the designated black flag station (Station 5 at NHIS and Station 10 at Lime Rock). A standing black flag at every station tells the drivers, “The session (practice/qualifying) has been stopped, proceed directly to the pits. Do not take another lap”.
The black flag may be displayed individually at Start or at the Black Flag Station, usually with a number board indicating the number of the car to which it is being given. Depending on how it is shown, it has different meanings. A furled (rolled-up) black flag pointed at the offending driver is a warning to that driver that he has done something wrong out on the track. The stewards are aware of it, and will be watching him for further indiscretions. If he does it again, an open black flag will be shown. The open black flag, displayed at Start and the Black Flag Station, again with a number board, indicate to that driver that he is to come to the pits, on that lap, and see the Pit Steward for a reprimand or penalty. The operating steward will have notified the pit steward about what that driver did wrong.
Mechanical Black Flag
The mechanical black flag (black with orange ball), or “meatball” as it is often referred to, is shown to a specific car, with a number board at the black flag station. It indicates to the driver that there is something mechanically wrong with his racecar and that he is to return to the pits immediately to correct the problem. It is given, most commonly, for a car that is dropping oil but could also be given for any mechanical problem identified by the corner workers or the driver’s crew. Common reasons for a mechanical black flag include no window net, a loose hood pin, a dragging exhaust or loose wheel. Rarely, a car could be on fire and the driver does not know it. In such a case, the corner worker will shake a fire extinguisher at the driver. It is not a flag, but the message is communicated to the driver, loud and clear, when every station on the track is waving a fire bottle at him!
In order to facilitate the accurate display of the open black flag or mechanical black flag to the correct driver, the black flag station and Start will ask for a “point”. This means that the stations preceding the black flag station will announce, over the net, that “car # 55 yellow” is at their station and that the black flag station or start can expect him next. During a “black flag procedure” all other stations should maintain radio silence except for an emergency.
The checkered flag (black and white checks) tells the driver, “You have finished the race or practice/qualifying session, continue cautiously to the pits”. The checkered flag is usually shown only at Start, but may be shown at other stations during practice sessions to shorten turn around time between groups.
The red flag (solid red) is displayed standing at all stations simultaneously, only at the command of the operating steward via Control. It means “extreme danger, the session is stopped. Come to an immediate, controlled stop at the side of the track and await further instructions”. The red flag is usually displayed when an incident has created a full course blockage to the flow of cars on the race track. Drivers should pull to the edge of the race track to allow for passage of emergency vehicles. Only after all competition vehicles have come to a stop, will drivers be released from a red flag condition by the display of a black flag at all stations, indicating that they should proceed cautiously to the pits. The red flag is not displayed often, but when it is, it must be heeded immediately to prevent further incident. Although it is displayed open and standing, it can be rocked side-to-side to catch the driver’s attention. In FIA and North American Unified Flag rules (at Pro events) the red flag is displayed waving, and has the same meaning as the “black flag all” flag condition in SCCA club rules. Thus at a Pro event, there is no way to stop all race traffic on the track.
Multiple flags can be displayed at the same station to convey complex course conditions and situations to the drivers. It is not unusual to see a waved yellow and a stationary surface flag at the same corner. There could also be a white flag shown at the same station. However, since a yellow flag implies “no passing” a yellow and blue flag will NEVER be shown at the same station.
In closing, a few comments on the mechanics of holding and displaying a flag. First of all, when the flag is not being displayed it is kept tucked under the corner worker’s arm to “hide” it from the view of the drivers. The drivers should only see a flag that is meant to be shown. To display a “standing “flag it is important to show as much of the colored surface of the flag to the oncoming drivers. For this reason the staff (stick) of the flag is usually held in the dominant hand and the free edge of the cloth of the flag in the non-dominant hand. With tension on the flag in this manner, the full surface of the flag can be displayed at right angles to the oncoming race traffic. This technique also prevents the wind from waving the flag or changing the angle of presentation to the drivers. A waved flag is best held with one hand at the junction of the cloth and shaft. This gives a better balance to the flag and makes it easier to wave for long periods. Remember to wave the flag BIG! Big motion catches the driver’s eye and leaves no doubt that you are displaying a waved flag. Drivers also see how much vigor you are putting into waving a flag and sense the urgency of the situation based on your body language. With the yellow flagger waving the flag vigorously and the other workers on the station motioning the drivers to slow down or keep to one side of the track, the message gets across. Remember at the beginning of this article I said that the flags are the only way we have of communicating with the drivers. While true, we can also shout with a flag or a fire bottle, depending on how we show it.
It is of paramount importance that the communication that we have with the drivers is accurate and consistent. Everyone needs to be flagging from the same set of rules. Those rules, and any changes to them, such as for a Pro event, will be discussed at the morning flag meeting. There is no place for, “I know that the rule book says this, but in this situation I like to do that”. If our flagging is accurate and consistent, the flag will be obeyed; if not, they will be ignored. The fable of the “boy who cried wolf” comes to mind. Next time we will discuss communication between corner workers and Control.