Safety Car, Yas Marina, 2021

Analysis: The four minutes that changed the destiny of the 2021 world championship

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Across a four-minute period late in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi changed his mind on a decision which ultimately determined which driver won the world championship.

After the Safety Car was deployed in reaction to Nicholas Latifi’s crash, Masi’s handling of the restart was always likely to have a bearing on the title fight between race leader Lewis Hamilton, who was poised to clinch the title, and pursuer Max Verstappen, who needed to pass his rival to win it. Once Verstappen had used the Safety Car period to fit a fresh set of rubber, five lapped cars lay between him and his target.

In Safety Car periods, F1 ordinarily gives drivers the opportunity to un-lap themselves. This is normally done via the digital messaging system.

When drivers did not receive that instruction after the Safety Car period some asked their engineers why. Race control then put out an official communication saying no un-lapping would take place.

But four minutes later that changed. The green light was given to the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen. As they moved past the Safety Car, Verstappen then only had clear air between himself and his title rival. The other lapped cars behind him were told to keep their position. Verstappen therefore had a clear shot at Hamilton and the lapped Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll separating him from third-placed Carlos Sainz Jnr.

A complicating factor for Masi was the time taken to clear Latifi’s car. Although this was a single-car collision, the operation was complicated by a few minor snags which held up the clear-up while the clock ticked down.

Safety Car, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, 2021
Hamilton originally had five lapped cars behind him
Immediately after Latifi struck the barrier yellow flags were waved at turn 14, with green flags being waved on the short straight to the next corner. The Williams couldn’t be retrieved until the track was under Safety Car conditions.

Once marshals were allowed onto the scene their first job was to clear the debris surrounding the car so others could get through. This ultimately prevented the need for a red flag, and took away one of the options the race director had.

Latifi had gone rear-first into the barriers leaving some carbon components strewn at the exit of the corner, as well as his whole front wing lying nearby. His car was opposite one opening in the barriers, but moving it across the track would have been more time-consuming and would have blocked the way through as well. Instead, a mobile crane vehicle was deployed to pick up Latifi’s car and take it back to the apex of turn 14 where there was another opening.

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It took a minute for Latifi to turn off his car – ensuring it was safe for the marshals to touch without the risk of an electric shock (although they came equipped with insulating gloves regardless in case there had been an ERS failure) and to then extract himself and move to a safe place off-track.

He then briefed the nearby marshals of the details of his crash. Meanwhile his front brakes caught fire, giving the corner workers another drama to contend with. The clear-up was delayed once the brakes starting visibly flaming, with several of the marshals without fire protections ushered away and jumping back over the barriers. It took nearly another minute for most of the debris to be picked up.

Restart, , Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, 2021
The lapped cars were moved aside at the restart
The first marshal to attend the car with a fire extinguisher did so from a position off-track, with the clouds of spray being produced by the canister reducing visibility around the car.

Another minute went by as they waited for that cloud to disperse, all while smoke was billowing out from the front wheels and keeping a haze around the car. They then had to check on the radio what the gaps were to the next cars reaching the final sector to know what time they had to head back into the middle of the circuit to collect the rest of the debris. A separate group of marshals, accompanied by the mobile crane vehicle, then came over to collect the car.

Four minutes after the crash, the car was finally in the air and ready to be moved away. When Latifi’s crash occurred five laps remained of the race, but the drivers were on their penultimate lap by the time race control’s message that no un-lapping would be allowed had been communicated to all of the drivers and shown on the television screens.

Once Latifi’s car was removed from the track and craned away it remained roped up in the air off-camera for another minute where the crane was parked and so could potentially have remained a concern for race control at this time.

Once that was done, all the marshals in that area of the track were available to attend to any further incidents and could be contacted on their radios without distraction. That freed up the possibility of returning cars to racing speed.

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Halfway around the next lap, race control told the five drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen in the Safety Car queue they could un-lap themselves. This departed from convention in several ways.

Race control messages from restart

Time Message
18:21 Safety Car deployed
18:23 Double yellow in track sector 15
18:27 Lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake
18:31 Lapped cars 4 (NOR) – 14 (ALO) – 31 (OCO) – 16 (LEC) – 5 (VET) to overtake Safety Car
18:31 Safety Car in this lap
18:31 Clear in track sector 17
18:31 Clear in track sector 15
18:32 Track clear

The standard procedure is for at least a lap to be given for those cars to circulate and return to the rear of Safety Car queue if possible, but the five were given just over a minute to sprint away in non-racing conditions – the race was still being run behind the safety car so they couldn’t pass one another and had to maintain a somewhat reduced pace – before Hamilton led the front of the field away.

As McLaren’s Lando Norris said, bringing Hamilton and Verstappen together on track for a final-lap restart looked like it was made “for TV”. It also ignored the strategic decisions teams had made based on the FIA communicating that no passing would take place.

Norris’ lapped team mate Daniel Ricciardo darted into the pits as Verstappen did behind the Safety Car and lost two positions to Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, expecting he would have a chance to make them up as soon as they would have to get out of Verstappen’s way with blue flags on the restart lap.

But Masi decided to give those two cars a 70-second head start on Verstappen and Ricciardo. The motivation behind this was to ensure the race concluded with a green flag lap, an outcome Masi later said the teams had previously agreed was “highly desirable”.

Arguably, reversing his earlier decision to let some cars un-lap themselves delayed the resumption of the race because radio communications then had to be made across the circuit to make sure marshals were aware that several cars would be going by at a faster speed while they were still required to show the Safety Car board. The usual advanced notice of a full lap before a restart, rather than seven corners, is for the good of those trackside operators as much as it is the drivers seeking to get back on the lead lap.

Once the FIA announced it would return the race to green flag conditions, it had to do so. And if race control felt the only way to do that and to direct the race to make sure it concluded safely and uniformly was to let five cars un-lap themselves, then it was doing its job correctly, albeit with direct interference in the on-track action that disproportionately impacted drivers in a way never seen before.

Mercedes protested the race result on these grounds, claiming a breach of Article 48.12 of the sporting regulations. The penultimate paragraph of that article begins: “Having overtaken the cars on the lead lap and the Safety Car these cars should then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and make every effort to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the Safety Car.”

The paragraph concludes: “Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the Safety Car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the Safety Car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.”

Safety Car, Nurburgring, 2020
Report: FIA rejects Verstappen’s claim Safety Car was used ‘to make race more exciting’
These rules had previously been interpreted with some contention under Masi’s directorship in 2020 when the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring had a lengthy Safety Car period that bunched up the field and set up another Hamilton versus Verstappen battle.

“There’s a requirement in the sporting regulations to wave all the lapped cars past,” Masi said at the time when pressed on why five laps of Safety Car running had been needed then to clear a smoking car parked next to a barrier opening. That statement was made after Verstappen said he thought the reasoning behind the Safety Car was “they just wanted to make it more exciting again because of the gaps”.

Red Bull’s representative at the hearing on Mercedes’ Abu Dhabi protest provided the argument that the regulation could be interpreted as not requiring all cars to un-lap themselves. The stewards ultimately rejected Mercedes’ protest but conceded in their explanation that “Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully”.

The result of that appeal therefore suggests that the FIA didn’t stray overtly away from its own rules when making such a controversial decision. But given how unexpected it was – and the fact that the signal that the Safety Car was returning to the pit lane came moments after the five drivers were told they could un-lap themselves – it points more to the rules being far too open for interpretation to a point where to many it looked like the show was prioritised at the expense of sporting integrity.

Race directors always have to think on their feet. Latifi’s car clear-up did provide more challenges than was perhaps obvious to television viewers and even to the Red Bull pit-wall who complained about the length of the Safety Car period. The speed at which the marshals could work both ruled out the need for the last resort of a total stoppage while also leaving insufficient time for lapped cars to be cleared out of the way in line with past practice.

That set up the prospect of the F1 world championship concluding behind Bernd Maylander’s Aston Martin Vantage. Clearly that was considered undesirable, prompting the contentious restart decision.

The stewards’ account of Masi’s evidence in the hearing on Mercedes’ protest said he decided “to remove those lapped cars that would ‘interfere’ in the racing between the leaders.” Whether that decision was consistent with the FIA’s rules and Masi’s previous interpretation of them will no doubt be a focus of Mercedes’ appeal – if they choose to proceed with one.

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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197 comments on “Analysis: The four minutes that changed the destiny of the 2021 world championship”

  1. I was doing a bit of an ivestigation of my own on F1TV, here’s what I’ve found.

    With 2.5 laps to go at T5 it is announced that lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake. The field is bunched up at T5 except for GAS, who catches up at T6. At this point marshals are still on the track.

    On the same lap at T14 the marshals jump out of the track as the bunched-up field goes by, the track seems clear as the last car (GAS) goes by.

    But it takes until T8 of the next lap until cars are allowed to unlap themselves. In my estimate, roughly 1:15 after they theoretically could have started unlapping on the start-finish straight.


    1. That will be related to things that can’t necessarily be seen on the track, such as the car hanging in mid-air on a crane. Safety for drivers and marshalls comes first, so I doubt there was an unreasonable delay. Just one unseen by track-side cameras.

      1. Yeah, that’s what I’m wondering.. Whether the delay was caused by something like this or by the previous decision not to allow unlapping.

    2. Thanks for that comment JL. It’s exactly what I have been wondering about after reading multiple articles in different sites, all stating that there was not sufficient time for all lapped cars to unlap themselves. But was that really the case? Hope to see more of that, including some graphs. It seems that the 2 cars that were not allowed to overtake were positioned directly behind VER, which I believe means that letting them through would have taken maybe additional 5 seconds or so. It also seams to me that the decision to let lapped cars overtake could have been made a bit earlier (about a minute as per your observation) which would also allow for all (or “any” :-) ) of them to pass while still having enough time to complete a racing lap under green conditions. Would love to have additional analysis on that from F1 Fanatic writers, as it could add different perspective on the topic of the “fairness” of the outcome of having a green lap with VER directly behind Hamilton.
      Also, on a separate note, I’ve seen on multiple platforms including here, the comment that the initial communication from Race Control that lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake had impact on MER strategy call whether to pit or not, however, this does not seem to be the case to me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but by the time this message was relayed to the teams, the field was already bunched together, meaning that a pit stop would have put HAM somewhere around the back of the train, not just behind VER.

    3. Correct, I noticed the same. It could be that we didn’t see something but more likely, Masi needs to tell the marshals that there will be cars coming at them at full speed.

      I think had they allowed the unlapping 1 second before safety car starting lap 57, the whole thing would be 100% in line with regulations. One could say that Masi’s only mistake, although understandable, was to get the messages a bit too late. Had all the comms been done at the end of lap 56, everything would be fine. In legal world, there is “substance over form” principle. I guess this explains why we saw what we saw. The messages got slightly delayed, and that had cascading effect. I wonder how much of delay was caused by both Toto’s and Christian’s calls to Masi.

    4. Those marshals are needed “in duty”. Probably they were still busy with the craned car. I believe they need to confirm the readiness of the track and theirselves, before race control gives signal to unlap.

      Anyhow its too late to restart without rule-breach, as soon as the next lap has started before “any” unlapping cars have passed the safety car. So no matter, whether the unlapping signal was given in T1 or T8.

    5. I noticed this too, I know nothing of Marshall protocols but I can only imagine this delay might be due to all Marshalls needing to confirm they are back in position and ready. Otherwise Iagree it seems like the decision to unlap could have been made for all with a restart on the last lap.

    6. Mind you, the audio messages in F1TV have a delay of about 2 seconds. Sometimes you can see a driver pushing the radio button an 2-3 seconds later you hear the driver.

      IMO the unlapping should be done differently; let the cars fall back to their race position behind the SC instead of unlapping themselves by passing the SC.

  2. to a point where to many it looked like the show was prioritised at the expense of sporting integrity

    I don’t think there is any “looked like” about it. The entire reason for trying to finish under green conditions is for the show rather than “sporting integrity”, and everybody knows that. So, the decision to throw away all established precedent and procedure to finish under green conditions, whether allowed by the rules or not, is by definition prioritising the show over sporting integrity.

    1. I think the “looked like” phrase is only there because there is no hard proof (confirmed from multiple sources with real knowledge) available to (or other media outlet) to say it without that @drmouse.

      Hard to even think about other reasons for it.

    2. Constantijn Blondel
      14th December 2021, 12:43

      Mods, please disregard my “Report comment” for @drmouse … Sorry, dr., I misclicked again.

      What I wanted to say is @drmouse: both “show” and “sporting integrity” are undefined terms that may mean anything to anyone … I think they are unsuited for forming a balanced opinion. (And your opinion I nevertheless respect and don’t entirely disagree with – hence my apologies for accidentally reporting you).

    3. The entire reason for trying to finish under green conditions is for the show rather than “sporting integrity”,

      Its a race toto, so the sole purpose is to resume racing as soon as safely possible.
      The show is the race…

      1. I’m not saying that we don’t sometimes need to prioritise the show. Particularly when writing the regulations, we need to be able to put on a show or else nobody will watch.

        That doesn’t mean the race director should be able to change the rules in a completely unprecedented way which hands a massive advantage to just a single driver in the field just “for the show”.

        1. hands a massive advantage to just a single driver

          again, that was not the intention and a result of strategic choices Mercedes made.
          It still was a great fight for a few corners and straight lines. If Mercedes made different choices the result probably was different.

          1. Mercedes based their decision on the rules and those rules have been broken by race-control.

          2. @romtrain they could not know that the race would end behind a SC when the SC was called out.
            Nothing to do with knowledge of rules whatsoever.
            Is you want to pit you stop as early as possible after the SC was send out. Only then you can optimize the options available. They did not.. a choice still.
            In hindsight not the best one.

          3. Again, there are 20 drivers in the race, not 2. As stated in the article, McLaren took the same strategic choice with Ricciardo than RedBull with Verstappen, but by the time the race was restarted his rivals were over a minute away and he had no chance to make places with his fresh softs.

            A safety car will always help some drivers’ races and harm others, there’s no way around that. But what we saw last Sunday benefitted one single driver, who was cleared of any lapped cars in front, with no regard whatsoever for the rest of the field. I mean, Masi himself said so:

            The race director stated that the purpose of article 48.12 was to remove those lapped cars that would “interfere” in the racing between the leaders

          4. You can only make correct strategy calls based on a fixed set of rules. And Masi defined those rules last year in the Eifel, when he said “There’s a requirement in the sporting regulations to wave all the lapped cars past,”

          5. @erikje It doesn’t matter whether that was the intention, and for the record I don’t think that was the intention. I believe his intention was to put on a better show.

            Had he done so within the existing rules and procedures, it wouldn’t be legitimate to argue against it. It may hand an advantage to one or the other, but them’s the rules and them’s the breaks.

            The massive difference here is that he invented an entirely new procedure, ignoring all available options in the rulebook, and that newly invented procedure did hand a massive advantage to Max compared to following the written rules. No matter the intention, surely you can see that’s not right.

          6. Don’t bother arguing with erikje. Even on the rare occasion they come close to having a point (clearly not the case today) it’s always accompanied with so much bile and spite that you can’t take anything they say seriously.

      2. The show is the race and then we had Spa.

  3. Across a four-minute period late in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi changed his mind on a decision which ultimately determined which driver won the world championship.

    1. Verstappen still had to overtake Lewis. Granted, it was easier because of the tyre offset but he still had to do it. Lewis fighting back makes it clear it wasn’t an easy and straightforward pass.
    2. If Masi decided otherwise (not letting the cars pass the safety car) he would have determined which driver won the world championship as well… but then in favour of Lewis.

    1. Well, yeah. But in that case he could have easily just pointed to the rulebook saying it did not leave them any real option there @mcbosch.

    2. @mcbosch Disallowing unlapping altogether would’ve been fairer sporting-wise, the same for an SC finish, given how little race distance was left.

      1. A red flag would’ve been the fairest decision.

        We’d then have had 5 laps from the starting grid with every driver on new tyres. That might’ve even meant Max and Lewis falling outside of the top 3!

        1. good point, but why would they fall outside of top 3?

          1. Restart crash, bad start, stall on the grid just to start.

            I agree that a red flag would have been the best way to handle this in hindsight, but even that would be an unusual decision. Red flags are not called so that the race can finish under a green flag. They are used when the safety car is not sufficient to ensure safety during maintenance activities.

            If the cars were allowed to unlap themselves immediately do you think Lewis would have pitted for new tires? I don’t think so. I think the greatest victims of Masi’s last lap green flag call were the lapped cars that did not get the same opportunities as those in front – not Lewis or Mercedes.

            Regardless of the result of Masi’s decision to start the race on the last lap or to let the race finish under the safety car I think we would still have an equally loud protest against the decision.

            I disagree with the conspiracy theorists that believe the FIA, Michael Masi, or Liberty Media engineered the decision for TV ratings or for a new champion. Prove it or shut up, please.

        2. How would a red flag be fair to Red Bull, which had earned the tyre offset by hanging around Hamilton’s pit window over the preceding 50-odd laps?

          1. It would have nullified the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen at the price of having the same tyre. Does not seem a bad trade-off at all to me, especially considering the situation in which they were before Latifi’s accident. The tyre advantage they had gained was not sufficient to close that gap…

          2. @steurui17 Yeah, that might be “fair” in a sort of negotiated sense between the frontrunners, but I don’t find it “fair” in the sense of keeping with either the spirit or the letter of the regulations. You can invent a lot of rules and negotiate a lot of offers that competitors might deem “fair” during a race, but we probably shouldn’t. You could offer a football team down a goal but playing against a team with their best striker sent off, “We could go straight to extra time with golden goal, but your opponent gets their striker back.” Depending on the circumstances, one or even both teams might consider that “fair,” but we’d find it a bit absurd.

            I realise this might be a minority opinion, but I do prefer the procedurally-botched outcome that we got to a red flag. In the regulations, red flags are only thrown if the track cannot be negotiated safely under safety car. That was clearly not the case here — unlike Baku, where there was debris all over the track. So throwing a red flag that cannot be justified on safety grounds, which would have allowed the leader to make a tyre change ostensibly due to safety concerns when there were none, would open the race director up to serious charges of interference as well.

            If the choice is between bending the rules for a late-race red flag versus bending the rules to wave around lapped cars a lap later than they should have been, an invented red flag offends my sporting sensibilities more, and sets a precedent that is more open to future abuse.

            In this case, the only procedurally correct option was a safety car, and the fair and correct outcomes in play ranged from a restart with no lapped cars to a restart with lapped cars to no restart at all. If the track had been declared clear just a bit sooner, we could have gotten what we had — a fair shootout — but achieved in the procedurally correct way. What we got was fair — in the sense that it was an outcome the rules were intended to allow — but achieved incorrectly. Since the track wasn’t declared clear in time, at that point, the only fair and procedurally correct outcome was to end the race under safety car.

            In a way, I sympathise with Masi, more than at any other point this season. The only outcome that would not have triggered a procedural controversy was starting the wavearound earlier. But from the radio traffic we heard, it sounded like he genuinely couldn’t handle the workload, and needs more people in the control room to help him carry out his role. Given that multiple drivers have said the track was safe enough for the wavearound earlier, if he’d left the backmarkers in place or ended under safety car, he would be still under intense criticism for interfering with the result. So at that point, he had the choice of an interference controversy and an exciting finish on track, or an interference controversy and an anticlimax on track.

            If Liberty were writing my paycheque, I know which one I’d choose.

          3. Since the track wasn’t declared clear in time, at that point, the only fair and procedurally correct outcome was to end the race under safety car.

            Er, should amend: If backmarkers were to be cleared, of course. Restarting with the lapped cars in place would have been procedurally correct and, I would argue, fair as well. But the latter would certainly be disputed because it would still open him up to the charge of interference for not clearing the wavearound earlier.

    3. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
      14th December 2021, 12:41

      2. If Masi decided otherwise (not letting the cars pass the safety car) he would have determined which driver won the world championship as well… but then in favour of Lewis.

      He wouldn’t be determining the outcome one way or another, he’d be applying the rules.

      1. Precisely. You are not deciding who wins by applying the written rules, especially if you are applying the same way as you have done in a similar situation before. Ignoring the written rules and making one up which significantly favours one driver over another in a way the written rules don’t (whether that’s the intent or not) is the race director deciding the result of the race.

    4. I don’t agree with the reasoning on #2. The race director can either let all cars unlap (and therefore SC comes in the following lap) or let none unlap. Both options are explicitly available. By the time the track was safe again, the only option left according to the rules, to get one lap of racing, was to not let anyone unlap themselves.

      That’s not deciding anything beyond choosing the only available option. In the same way it was luck of the draw that Max could make a free stop for tyres, but Lewis couldn’t, it was luck of the draw that there weren’t enough laps remaining to let cars unlap themselves according to the rules.

      1. Max could make a free stop for tyres, but Lewis couldn’t,

        That’s an interesting theory.
        Lewis had about 12 se on max when the sc came out. Pittime in Abu Dhabi was about 23 sec. In SC conditions 12 s could have done it. So there even was a possibility lewis stayed ahead with fresher tires. But of course its a risk as always. For RedBull a no brainer, they had nothing to loose and gambled on a restart.
        But still a choice by the mercedes strategy dept.

        1. But Max’s hard tyres were only a few laps old. Mercedes ran the risk of putting Lewis behind Max and the race finishing under the safety car thus losing the title. They also ran the risk of putting Lewis behind Max, knowing how difficult it would be to overtake if 1 lap of racing were to happen. There was so much for them to lose, the only sensible option was to keep the track position and hope the race finishes under safety car or they don’t move the lapped cars and there’s enough of a buffer.

          Red Bull had a free pit stop because they had literally nothing to lose.

          1. Agreed, but it was still a choice made by mercedes strategy.
            In hindsight (easy) the wrong one.

    5. Except Hamilton had earned the win by dominating the race.

      Race control wouldn’t have determined who won the championship either way… until they decided to not apply the rules evenly and fairly, by letting only the lapped cars ahead of Verstappen pass.

      It was an incredibly cheap win for Verstappen.

      1. Dominating a race doesn’t mean you’ll win it.
        Verstappen dominated Baku and lost the win with a few laps to go because something outside his control.
        In 2008, Massa dominated in Hungary but lost the win when his engine blew up with 3 laps to go. And Hamilton ended up winning the title by 1 point.

      2. You could say that Verstappen had a win on his hands in Silverstone and Hamilton took it away by not following the rules and just making them up as he went along. Yep punting someone off is now ok? Karma; this is all just pure karma the universe has handed out in spades. The smugger you are the harder you fall and as Russel said, “you get what you deserve!”, you are going to live by that now Russel. :-)

  4. Thank you guys for summing up what exactly went on with regards to that rescue, helps put things into the right perspective. With regards to how to handle the SC, I guess it really is inevitable that the FIA, Liberty the teams and the drivers sit down and talk things through.

    They can (should) also tackle stuff where there is a different approach between starts, running behind the SC and red flag restarts to try and make things more sensible and the same where possible. And get a grip on how to steward and judge whether to “let them race” or penalise so that we get more transparent, consistent and fair stewarding as well.

    Nice job for the winter for the new FIA president and their team, I guess.

    1. If the stewards throw away any complaint then they are not ready to accept any fault in their actions. When can you then discuss.

  5. That set up the prospect of the F1 world championship concluding behind Bernd Maylander’s Aston Martin Vantage. Clearly that was considered undesirable

    Here’s the thing. Had this race been like Brazil, Saudi, or any other competitive race between the two protagonists I could sympathise with this line of thinking. But frankly apart from the turn one incident and Perez being a roadblock it was a bore. Max and Red Bull had no answer under racing conditions and so I don’t think many people would have been too miffed to see the race end under the safety car. It’s happened before. On the flip side, making incosistent decisions and ignoring protocol, which has led to the position we’re in now- is even less desirable. Some casual fans (family and friends) are still asking me “why” and my answer- even with all the analysis that has followed is frankly that no one, except Masi knows. Goes without saying he has alot of answering to do and unfortunately for him his position is no longer tenable.

  6. As soon as there was a safety car at that Kate stage, the championship would be decided by the decisions of the race director.
    Surely a red flag and restart would have been a fairer decision than the race director deciding that either driver should win according to their whim?
    At least that way, the championship would have been decided by the drivers.

    1. Had the race director applied the rules as written, he wouldn’t be “deciding the championship”, the regulations would. I know it’s a fine distinction, but it’s a very important one.

      1. petebaldwin (@)
        14th December 2021, 14:54

        Do the rules as written clearly state whether a safety car with cars unlapping, a safety car without cars unlapping or a red flag should have been used? Do they also state whether Masi could have let the lapped cars unlap themselves on the lap prior?

        It seems to me as though that clarity is lacking and it forces Masi to make a decision.

        The rules should exclude him from making a decision (ie if a safety car is deployed, once you reach the final 5 laps, the race is immediately red flagged and re-started once the incident is clear) but that isn’t the case.

        1. @petebaldwin I’m hopeful that one outcome from all of this is there are written rules governing what happens should there be a safety car required in the last few laps of a race.

          I don’t think the problem is the clarity though – there were standard processes he didn’t follow. Teams could and probably did base their strategic decisions on those processes. But he’s allowed to override them bizarrely, that’s the real issue. I’m not against the provision for the race director to act in this way, but only for safety reasons, not for “the show”.

        2. To be completely honest, unless he could argue that letting the cars unlap themselves wasn’t safe, he didn’t really have much choice. The rules are worded such that, if it is safe to do so, all cars must be allowed to unlap themselves and the safety car comes in at the end of the following lap. He could have tried to argue it wouldn’t be safe to try to get the lapped cars through in the time remaining, so left them where they were, but that’s about it.

          The rules are actually quite clear, IMHO, and don’t give the race director much latitude really. Maybe our problem is that we’ve allowed the race director far too much latitude in the past. For instance, I don’t believe it was technically allowed for him to give Max the chance to give the place back on the grid the other day, and it should have just gone to the stewards. But, because we’ve allowed him so much latitude in the past, he’s finally pushed it too far and decided the WDC himself.

          1. Yes, strongly agree with this. The negotiations in Jeddah seemed innocent enough and a genuine attempt to put things right in a manner compatible with the spirit of the rules, but they were contrary to regulations and should not have been occurred.

            The problem with trying to avoid penalties because they spoil the show is that it favours the driver(s) that should be penalised.

            I’ve seen the footage from Stroll’s car (he was lapped but not allowed to overtake because he was not in Max’s way) of that last lap and it looked ridiculous and not particularly safe. So I think the wording that unlapping should occur if safe should be taken seriously. Therefore no option but to end this one under the SC once the cars can’t overtake on lap 56. Safety cars are innately unfair and that is part of racing but the clearly laid out procedures are what makes then “luck” and not “whim of the officials”.

  7. This “race must be finished under green flag conditions” sounds like a WWE argument to me. Yes, it is desirable, but sometimes there just isn’t time for that. Races have been finished behind the SC before. Without Latifi’s accident the race would’ve had a dull ending anyway, since Hamilton had a huge lead over Verstappen. It wouldn’t have been more exciting just because they were racing under green flag conditions.

    1. 100%.

      Ultimately, I don’t think Mercedes will take this all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but I do think they will use the threat of that to put immense pressure on the FIA behind-the-scenes.

      Hopefully they can force changes that are for the better of the ‘sport’ rather than about improving the ‘spectacle’ which seems to be Liberty’s focus.

      1. petebaldwin (@)
        14th December 2021, 15:03

        @sonnycrockett – I don’t think “better for the sport” and “better for the spectacle” are mutually exclusive. If the desire is to have every race finish under a green flag (good for the show) then the rules need to be in place and should be followed to the letter (good for the sport).

        The issue here is that a decision was made on the fly for the good of the show but any variance from the rules is terrible in a sporting context. You can create regulations that ensure the show is how you want it to be and as long as everyone understands what the rules are and those rules are applied correctly, there is no issue in a sporting context.

    2. Yes, it was a poor excuse. I think everyone agrees its “highly desirable” for as much of the race as possible to be under green flag conditions, including the end of the race. But clearly that doesn’t mean breaking long-established rules that teams may well be relying on when making on-the-fly strategic decisions, in order to achieve that outcome.

      I found all of Masi’s arguments at the original protest to be highly unsatisfactory. He did himself no favours and whilst I’m not in favour of getting rid of the referee as a general rule, I won’t be surprised if he is removed from that position for taking matters a bit too much into his own hands at the crucial moment.

    3. The entire [non-race] at Spa was done under the safety car. There seems to be so much room for interpretation of the rules that it’s not clear to me what a race is actually supposed to look like anymore. Maybe in the future they could simply announce who the winner will be and avoid all the messiness of trying to run actual races. IMO it wouldn’t be any less artificial.

    4. Arcording to Carlos the track wasn’t even ready and there was still debris not cleared

  8. That’s great reporting! More detail than I have seen on any other site.

  9. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
    14th December 2021, 12:37

    A shocking decision from Masi. I don’t believe it was rigged, just that he’s wholly incompetent. The Sky team were suggesting that the race might restart without shuffling the backmarkers, as that was the only way within the rules that it could be green-flagged early. Masi ignored the rules and handed Verstappen the championship on a plate. If even the FIA ignores the rules, how can it be called a sport? This felt more like pro wrestling.

    1. As you note, this is just the latest in a whole series of events in which the race director and the stewards have made the story about them rather than the participants through weird, strange and unprecedented decisions. Of course no top level sports is without the occasional incident involving referees and umpires doing weird things, but it has been a long habit of F1 and one that definitely did not start with Masi (who isn’t even a steward anyway and doesn’t decide the penalties).

      Unfortunately not much has changed under Todt and his director of motorsport affairs, but this years’ FIA election at least means new people will be in charge of these matters from 2022 onward. Hopefully they’ll use this winter period to take a long look at how F1 is run and come up with ways in which that can be improved.

      It’s unfortunate that this happened in the final race of the season, but as it’s just the latest case of the officials getting it wrong there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to believe it was done with the intent to influence the outcome of the championship. And even if it was, Hamilton still went into the last lap leading the race.

      1. there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to believe it was done with the intent to influence the outcome of the championship

        I don’t think that matters at all. Whether he intended to or not, he did influence the result of the championship. He either knew that what he was doing was not compliant with the rules or he didn’t. If he did, he purposely influenced the result against the rules. If he didn’t, he’s just incompetent: He’s run safety cars all the time, and the rules are not that complex. I have to know a greater number of more complicated rules off the top of my head for my job, and not knowing the rules would not be enough to save my job, or even save me from being sued, if I screwed up (it would count as negligence, possibly gross negligence).

        1. He’s on record quoting these rules after a GP last year so he’s definitely aware.

          As you suggested elsewhere I think the success of his “improvisation” during the suspension in Jeddah went to his head.

  10. Lewis leaving the door WIDE open at the hairpin is what ‘ultimately’ decided this years championship. If he had defended like Perez had earlier in the race, Lewis would be an 8 time world champion right now!

    Yes the stewards made a huge blunder (by not letting all the lapped cars through at the START of the penultimate lap, rather than towards the end) so if the rules had been followed correctly Max would have been right behind Lewis for that last lap anyway, it really is a moot point.

    1. Lewis had the best pace but it’s true that didn’t race well yesterday. In all 3 wheel to wheel moments, he was found lacking and was very lucky to not have a penalty over a more clear-cut penalty than Verstappen than Saudi Arabia.

      He was unlucky at the end but he also gave away the opportunity for Red Bull and Max to capitalize.

      1. Giselle Mitton
        14th December 2021, 15:03

        Each time on that turn he braked early and put the car to the right of the racing line. In my view this was due to brake problems experienced since some races and secondly wanting to avoid any contact with MV. A DNF would give Max the championship

      2. @cobray if you’re talking about lap 1, that was never going to be a penalty against Lewis. Look again at the replay – Max missed the apex of turn 6 (the left turn of the chicane) and had 90+% of his car across the white line on the outside of the track. Max himself was barely inbounds (if you define inbounds as being within the white lines).

        Intentionally or not intentionally, he ran Lewis off the road. Cutting the corner was therefore Lewis’ only option and after Saudi I’m not surprised he straightlined the chicane as much as he did to make sure that Max couldn’t attempt another “give the place back but have DRS for the next straight” type of move.

        1. @skydiverian He was fully inbounds. Fully. It was the definition of an overtaking move. He left no space for lewis but in terms of the corner, he was in front.

          Lewis floored it and went fully straight instead of at least following the pattern of the road like Max in Saudi Arabia.

          “I’m struggling to understand the regulations”- Jenson Button

          And just for laughs.

    2. That’s a weird interpretation. The stewards didn’t make the blunder, they had nothing to do with the restart, please learn how F1 works. Michael Masi, the race director broke F1 rules with how he allowed only certain drivers to overtake.

    3. Lapped cars should not be allowed to unlap before the hazard is cleared and all marshals are back on their posts. If the rules would have been followed correctly, then there was simply no more options for a final lap without those lapped cars in between. Either the race needed to end under SC, or with the lapped cars in between.

    4. “Lewis leaving the door WIDE open at the hairpin is what ‘ultimately’ decided this years championship”

      Lewis Hamilton is not a stupid racer, we’re talking about one of the all time greats here, racing since he was a little kid. He left the door wide open on purpose hoping Verstappen would send it into the hairpin, because getting the tow on the back straight was Hamiltons only shot at being in front by the end of the lap. If Hamilton brakes as late as possible into the hairpin, Verstappen can brake much later on his new softs and closes right up on him at the apex, then he will also get a better exit with better traction on those new softs, that in combination with the greater top speed of the Redbull this weekend meant Hamilton had no choice but to give Verstappen the lead into that corner and hope to tow him back on the straight and fight into the next chicane.

  11. I don’t usually read planet-f1 but they just posted an article with evidence that could be used by Mercedes in an appeal. Masi said in Nurburgring 2020 that all lapped runners have to overtake according to the rules. So he contradicted himself and manipulated an F1 race by going against the rules he previously said he had to get follow. I think they should nullify the race result and award the championship to Verstappen and lewis, that would be more fair than what happened in the last few races of this season and especially the last laps.

    1. It’s mentioned in this article also :)

    2. if they nullify the race max still is champion. So that is not a solution the lewis fanclub will like.
      They are looking for an option to gift lewis the championship.

      1. I don’t think there is any precedent for what to do with a race where the FIA officials didn’t follow their own rules like this. I don’t think it can be assumed they would just nullify the result of the race.

        That said, I don’t want the result changed in court. What I want is for Masi and the FIA to come out and say “Sorry, we screwed up, and here’s what we are going to do to ensure this never happens again”. I don’t see any possibility of that at all, though, so the Mercedes challenge is the only realistic way to do anything about this farce.

        1. We have had races where the checkered flag was waved one lap before. Those are mistakes by the authorities, but they have accepted the race results with that mistake, and reduced laps.

          If that’s a precedent, they should come out and apologize that they made a mistake and yet the result stands. This will look real bad on FIA as this mistake changed the WDC.

          1. But that rule is to not disadvantage the competitors by their mistake.

            If the flag is waved early, some cars may slow down and unfairly lose a place, therefore to make it fair the race is counted back to the moment that the error was made and the race declared from that point. Up to that point the racing was fair

            Sound familiar?

          2. I think the difference there is that the rules state that, when the leader passes the line with the chequered flag out, the race is over. The nearest equivalent to that would be saying that, when “SC in this lap” is shown, the SC comes in.

            I feel this is very different, though, because the message wasn’t sent out accidentally at the wrong time, but purposely in order to influence the race. This would be like the race director purposely having the chequered flag put out early, knowing the rules didn’t allow it at that time. Even if they allow the result to stand, it must be recognised as a massive “miscarriage of justice” to influence the result like that.

  12. It’s really time for Mercedes to let this go, in my opinion. Yes, a bad decision was made by Masi under extreme pressure. Horner and Wolff added to the pressure with their highly distracting calls to Masi, so they are not free of blame here.

    What we are seeing now is Mercedes stirring up a Twitterstorm that is aimed at getting Masi sacked, and that is graceless and undignified.

    Hamilton initially made the right call when he got out of the car, congratulated Verstappen, and accepted the outcome with grace and dignity.

    1. What we are seeing now is Mercedes stirring up a Twitterstorm that is aimed at getting Masi sacked, and that is graceless and undignified.

      Masi has to go though. I’ve nothing personal against Masi, but he just isn’t competent enough to be the race director. The teams and drivers didn’t always agree with Whiting, but they all respected him. None of the teams or drivers respect Masi.

    2. Hamilton didn’t know the full story. i’m sure he’s supportive of the (potential) appeal from Mercedes.

      wouldn’t you appeal if you were Mercedes and Hamilton? it’s not a kart race, they can’t just “let it go”. it’s not just Hamilton’s championship. there’s millions at stake in Formula 1, it’s a huge invenstment. even if the appeal doesn’t do anything, if they don’t try it nothing will ever change

      1. Of course they appealed. The two appeals ( one really sad) are dismissed and that should be the end of it.
        Yes FIA F$#@d up again, but it is what it is.
        Next year Toto is no longer a teamboss. He will moveon to another important function in the team but not longer as teamleader. Its obvious the lack of Niki frustrates him and he is not able to function under pressure.

        1. Do you honestly believe any team boss would let that just be the end of it, if they believed they had lost a championship because the Race Director refused to apply the rules? Horner, Binotto, Seidle… Any of them would be challenging this, and IMHO it is right that they should. The FIA need to be held to account. They’ve been bad before, but this is so insanely out of order that I cannot understand anyone supporting them.

        2. Mercedes did nothing wrong and got cheated by race-control. They would have won the WDC if the rules were not broken. So why shouldnt they bring this to the courts?

    3. What we are seeing now is Mercedes stirring up a Twitterstorm that is aimed at getting Masi sacked, and that is graceless and undignified.

      @jonathan189 What are you referring to?

    4. Apologies, I pressed the ‘report’ button on your post by accident.

      The issue for me is not just this race but racing in F1. The race Direction and stewarding this season has been inadequate and this last incident just tops it off.

      We have to get away from prioritising ‘the show’ and prioritising fair and challenging racing with clear and equitably enforced rules and procedures. It is that which will provide an attractive show not gimmicks and misuse of the rules.

      1. I really don’t expect Masi to be RD next March. He’ll be quietly offered a new job elsewhere over winter!

    5. Marko has been quite scathing about the rules and interpretations since AD saying the FIA need to take action. And didn’t rule out personnel changes when asked. So you blaming that on Mercedes as well? BBC and others reporting that half the teams and drivers are pushing for change. All lead by Mercedes?
      Not seen anything directly or indirectly from Mercedes seeking Masi’s dismissal. I assume there is?

    6. Are you sure that the “twitterstorm” is due to Merc, and not just a bunch of F1 fans peeved that the race director decided, on the penultimate lap of the title-deciding final race of the season, to throw away the rule book and invent a new rule which handed a massive advantage to one, specific driver?

  13. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    14th December 2021, 12:46

    The safety car restart allowed only 1 driver to race and it was Max and it was a one-way race as he didn’t have to check his rear view mirrors and/or worry about keeping his position from Sainz or Lewis backing him up into Sainz.

    Sainz and many other drivers and the lapped cars that were allowed by weren’t allowed to fight for position. Sainz could only defend.

    It was 1 lap for 1 car with illegal racing.

    1. erikje