The FIA is set to conclude the inquiry into the controversial F1 finale by February 2022.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), Formula One’s governing body, has launched an official inquiry into the controversial 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi and has stated that it intends to conclude the inquiry by early February at the latest.
After FIA race director Michael Masi incorrectly applied the rules during the Safety Car period at the end of the Abu Dhabi race, it allowed Max Verstappen, who was behind Lewis Hamilton the entire race, to take the lead from the Brit and go on to not only win the race but the Drivers’ Championship too.
The manner in which racing resumed after the Safety Car period and the clearance of only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen has led to controversy. Mercedes claimed Masi did not follow the rule book and took matters into his own hands to put up a show rather than abide by the law.
The sporting regulations article 48.12 and 48.13 are the ones in question, which Masi seems to have failed to interpret correctly. He also ignored a rule which states that the race is supposed to restart at the end of the following lap after the lapped cars have been removed; racing in Abu Dhabi restarted a lap earlier.
The race director, who was supposed to uphold the rules, seemingly made them up as he went along. This has resulted in the integrity of the sport being questioned.
The FIA released a statement that read:
“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.
“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 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.”
The inquiry team will be interviewing all those involved in the controversy, which includes race director Michael Masi, the stewards, the drivers and the team representatives. The stewards had initially submitted their reports the week after the title-decider in Abu Dhabi and the formal investigation began on January 10, 2022.
The FIA had announced that it would do an analysis and clarification exercise to understand what happened during the final laps of the chaotic season finale that left Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton like a sitting duck against the other title protagonist, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The FIA also hopes that the learnings from the investigation will help the governing body work better in 2022 and beyond.
The new FIA President, Mohammed ben Sulayem, Jean Todt’s successor, has already taken a personal involvement into the matter and is dealing with it with the utmost priority. He has already held discussions with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
The new FIA President commented:
“The integrity of the FIA, it is my job and duty to protect it, but it doesn’t mean that we do not look into our regulations, and if there is any improvement [to make], we will.
“I said in my first press conference, this is not the book of God. This is written by humans. It can be improved and changed by humans. So that’s it.”
Mercedes had initially launched an appeal but withdrew it when the FIA promised that it would carry out a fair analysis and investigation to look into the events of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The handling of the events during the Safety Car period by race director Michael Masi and the following events that saw Max Verstappen snatch away the lead of the race and the world title left Mercedes not only in anger but also in shock and disbelief. Hamilton had said on the team radio right after the race that the race had been “manipulated”. Wolff had accused Masi of “a freestyle reading of the rules [that] left Lewis like a sitting duck”, and added, “robbing him in the last lap of the race is unacceptable.”
Such has been the disbelief over what happened, that it is reported that Hamilton is not a 100% sure whether he would want to continue racing in the upcoming season. He has not made any public appearance since then nor has he said a word.
Mercedes further displayed their stance on the decision when neither Hamilton nor his boss Wolff attended the FIA’s prize giving ceremony in December.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff spoke about how Hamilton and the rest of the team felt post the incidents on December 12, stating:
“Lewis and I are disillusioned at the moment. We’re not disillusioned with the sport, we love the sport with every bone in our body and we love it because the stopwatch never lies. If we break that fundamental principle of sporting fairness and the authenticity of the sport then suddenly the stopwatch doesn’t become relevant anymore because we are exposed to random decision making.
“You start to question if all the work that you have been putting in, all the sweat, tears and blood, can actually be demonstrated in terms of bringing the best possible performances on track because it can be taken away randomly.
“It’s going to take a long time for us to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don’t think we will ever get over it. That’s not possible and certainly not as a driver. I would very much hope that the two of us and the rest of the team can work through the events with the FIA, together with F1, to improve the sport going forward. But he will never overcome the pain, the distress caused on Sunday.
“I would very much hope Lewis continues racing because he is the greatest driver of all time. As a racer his heart will say I need to continue because he’s at the peak of his game. But we have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday. He is a man with clear values.”
McLaren chief executive and former team principal Zac Brown also spoke about Hamilton’s future and the role played by the FIA in deciding it.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he stopped, so no one should take for granted that he is coming back.
“We should not discount or not recognise his frustration, his anger. Maybe he has not made a decision and what he is doing is taking time to make that decision to make sure. Because once it’s made, it’s made, I don’t think we should rule it out or make light of it.”
Brown spoke about how the inquiry needed to set a precedent for the future and also said that the decisions taken on December 12 were a lapse in judgement and an error rather than something targeted against Hamilton.
“They need to show they have taken action to make sure it doesn’t happen again but I don’t think this was a malicious decision.
“For those who may have the view that the sport is corrupt, I don’t agree. Potentially a different decision could have been made but I want to wait to see what the FIA comes out with.”
Along with new FIA President Mohammed ben Sulayem, Peter Bayer will also be leading the investigation. Bayer is the FIA’s Secretary of General Motor Sports and also currently oversees single-seater matters at the FIA. Bayer has recently chaired a meeting of the FIA’s sporting advisory committee on January 19, which was held to discuss the use of the Safety Car. Bayer is now set to have discussions with all the drivers in the following few days, during which Hamilton is expected to participate.
It is to be noted that during the aftermath of the controversial title decider, both McLaren drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris spoke about their disbelief of the use of the Safety Car. While Norris said the actions were “made for TV”, Ricciardo said that he was glad he wasn’t a part of that.
Hamilton’s new teammate George Russell also spoke about his unhappiness with the events that had unfolded.
It is almost inevitable that Michael Masi will be replaced as the Race Director, with Formula E and DTM series’ Race Director Scott Elkins the likeliest candidate to replace him. Elkins was previously an understudy to former FIA F1 director Charlie Whiting.