Ferrari’s protest over the restart of Saturday’s Six Hours of Spa was thrown out on a technicality.

The team’s cars were running first and second when the race was red-flagged due to a huge crash which launched Earl Bamber’s Cadillac into a barrier at Kemmel. He and WRT BMW’s Sean Gelael emerged from the crash unscathed but the clean-up and repair operation took around one and three-quarter hours, pushing the race close to its Six Hour duration.

However race control took the decision to restart the race for the majority of the remaining race time. It therefore ended almost eight hours after it started.

By then Ferrari’s cars had slipped to third and fourth, and victory went to the Jota Porsche of Callum Ilott and Will Stevens. “We consider the decision to extend the race beyond six hours questionable,” said Ferrari’s head of endurance race cars Ferdinando Cannizzo. “We feel a lot of regret because we believe the outcome should have been different.”

Ferrari looked set for a one-two during the stoppage

Ferrari lodged a protest against the stewards’ decision to resume the race “for a period of one hour and 44 minutes.” The stewards cited article 14.3.1 of the sporting regulations for this decision, which states they “may take the decision to stop and/or modify the race time set,” which “may not exceed the time of the competition.”

Did Ferrari have a point? The race winners’ time – 5hr 57’31.542 – did not exceed the upper limit specified for this event.

However they believed the time spent under the red flags should have been included in the overall race time, as is commonplace in F1.

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“At 6.55 pm, the restart was announced,” the team noted. “However, this included the recovery of the one hour and 44 minutes of suspension rather than just the five minutes remaining until the natural end of the event.

The barrier repairs took almost two hours

“At the restart, Ferrari number 51 first had to make an emergency stop, followed by a final pit stop, like its ‘sister’ car number 50. In the finale, despite the Italian drivers’ excellent lap times, they could not overtake Porsches number 12 and six, which finished first and second, respectively. These Porsches had made their fourth pit stop before the suspension.”

WEC’s rules on race durations work differently to those seen in other series like F1. While the maximum time limit is the same for every grand prix, WEC events can have different durations.

F1 also sets a limit for how far a race can be extended after a stoppage. This is why, for example, the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix was stopped after just 28 laps of 53 – not because conditions worsened, but because of F1’s three-hour time limit on racing.

But Ferrari’s protest was ultimately rejected not over the issue of whether the race should have been restarted for the full remaining duration, but on a more technical matter. The stewards noted: “A stewards’ decision can not be the subject of a protest under article 13.2.1 of FIA International Sporting Code.”

This clause lists what teams may bring protests against. It includes the provisional classification, which Ferrari also protested, but not stewards’ decisions.

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Even had this not been the case, a further clause was available to the WEC stewards to justify their decision to ensure the race ran its full intended duration. Article 1.2.2 of the sporting regulations states: “No competitor, driver or participant may demand the literal application of these regulations if its behaviour is deemed contrary to good sportsmanship and fair competition.”

It’s easy to understand Ferrari’s displeasure at losing a one-two-result which they appeared to have secured for two hours. But ensuring the race reached its intended duration of six hours was arguably the best option available to ensure a “fair competition.”

However as with all such decisions it will bring with it the expectation that it will set a future for how future decisions are handled.

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