FIA Moves Forward with Review of Safety Car Ruling from Abu Dhabi GP

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  • Lewis Hamilton
    Lewis Hamilton
    British racing driver
  • Max Verstappen
    Max Verstappen
    Dutch-Belgian racing driver
Photo credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE - Getty Images
Photo credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE - Getty Images
  • Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, has begun a detailed analysis into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

  • Lewis Hamilton clearly has not gotten over the disappointment or possibly even the anger from Abu Dhabi, as has not posted on social media since the title race.

  • Mercedes has dropped its appeal, but team principal Toto Wolff vowed that it would hold the FIA to account over the situation.

The controversy surrounding the 2021 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix just won't die.

Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, has begun a detailed analysis into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that dictated the outcome of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship. A late Safety Car period during the title-deciding race at the Yas Marina Circuit, on December 12, resulted in a controversial conclusion to the campaign.

The application of the regulations by race director Michael Masi, most prominently the unlapping of only five cars and immediately restarting the race for a one-lap sprint to the finish rather than waiting for one lap, has come under scrutiny. Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton on the final lap—the sole race lap after the safety car—to claim the victory and the world title.

Hamilton clearly has not gotten over the disappointment or possibly even anger from Abu Dhabi, as has not posted on social media since the title finale. His last public comment was his brief post-race interview in parc ferme. He did not attend the FIA Prize-Giving ceremony four days later and is understood to have spent the winter break so far in the United States. Verstappen, meanwhile, is due to participate in this weekend’s Virtual Le Mans 24 Hours.

Masi’s interpretation of two articles in the sporting regulations related to usage of the Safety Car was questioned, but stewards backed Masi by pointing to Article 15.3, which gives the race director overriding authority on the Safety Car. That was judged to have superseded the two articles in question even if it was not explicitly outlined as such in the regulations.

A furious Mercedes team launched an appeal, which it later withdrew, confirming Verstappen as champion, but boss Toto Wolff vowed that it would hold the FIA to account over the situation.

Photo credit: ATPImages - Getty Images
Photo credit: ATPImages - Getty Images

The FIA, during the final days of Jean Todt’s presidency, upset observers by suggesting that fans and drivers had misunderstood the situation, but asserted that a full investigation would take place.

Todt was succeeded by Mohammed Ben Sulayem on December 17, but further updates had not been forthcoming until a statement was released on Thursday.

“Following the decision of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 15 December 2021, the FIA administration, under the leadership of Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has started the detailed analysis of the events of the last Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” read a statement. “The FIA President launched a consultation with all F1 teams on various issues, including this one.

On January 19, an item on the agenda of the Sporting Advisory Committee will be dedicated to the use of the Safety Car.

“The following stage will be a shared discussion with all F1 drivers.

“The outcome of the detailed analysis will be presented to the F1 Commission in February and the final decisions will be announced at the World Motor Sport Council in Bahrain on 18 March.

“FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has asked Secretary General Sport and recently appointed Single-Seater Director Peter Bayer for proposals to review and optimize the organization of the FIA F1 structure for the 2022 season.”

While the statement suggests that the situation will only be clear on March 18, which is the opening day of practice for the first round of 2022 in Bahrain, a picture is likely to emerge before then. That’s because meetings involving key stakeholders are due to take place in early February, before the opening preseason test takes place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain, on February 23-25.

Photo credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE - Getty Images
Photo credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE - Getty Images

The F1 Commission comprises key representatives from the 10 teams, along with senior figures from Formula 1 and the FIA. That means any findings and conclusions are likely to be known in February, with the date of March 18 a rubber-stamping exercise, given that it is the next scheduled meeting of the FIA’s WMSC.

The involvement of drivers, teams and Formula 1 figures will alleviate some concern over the FIA’s role as arbitrator in investigating its own organization. Formula 1 is also unlikely to want the anticipation of its new cars, which have been several years in the making, to be overshadowed by the hangover of last year’s finale.

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