Black flags and red rags

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Imagine Rubens Barrichello being black flagged from a race for blocking David Coullhard in his chase of Michael Schumacher. Now imagine that, as the Brazilian comes into the pits, Maranello’s Sporting Director Jean Todt aims a right hook at FIA race director Charlie Whiting. An unlikely scenario?

Go back 1975, however, replace RuLens with Regga and Todt with di Montezemolo, and this is the situation that unfolded during the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, when Niki Lauda’s Ferrari led, hotly pursued by Emerson Fittipoldi in a McLaren M23.

Regazzoni, who had made an unscheduled stop to replace a nose-cone, moved over to allow Lauda to lap him. And then held up the McLaren so blatantly that Emerson’s gap to Lauda went from 1 .2sec to 12.2sec in eight laps. Clerk of the Course Burdette Martin held out the black flag for the Ferrari.

“We black-flagged him several times,” ‘Burdie’ recalls. “He was only doing his job,but when became in I went down toile Ferrari pit and held a notice saying ‘Obey blue flag’ to indicate that he ought to give way when he received such a signal. He just sat watching me, laughing under his helmet. Then as I turned to go away, Luca di Montezemolo took a swing at me. I ducked and a steward ran over to break it up. Luca later apologised, so no more was said about the matter.”

Regazzoni briefly resumed the race, but a few laps later was called back into the pits for good. Di Montezemolo clearly felt Clay was now so far behind that his continued presence on the circuit was largely pointless.

Martin retains great affection For Regazzoni. “After his accident at Long Beach in 1980, where I was Clerk of the Course, he sent me a message not to worry about legal action against the circuit or organisers,” he recalls. “He told us not to worry on his account. I thought that was a sensitive gesture from a fine man at a very difficult time.”