Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Yas Marina, 2021

FIA’s sweeping changes vindicate Mercedes’ belief Hamilton was “robbed” of title


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The FIA’s decision to replace Formula 1 race director Michael Masi, and the announcement of sweeping changes to officiating in the sport, shows what the governing body intends to do about the controversy sparked by last year’s title-deciding race in Abu Dhabi.

However it has not shed light on the analysis which led to the changes. Crucially, it hasn’t explained what went wrong or who was responsible.

It was never likely to, for obvious reasons. Were the FIA to acknowledge mistakes were made in the handling of the final-lap restart, which changed the outcome of the world championship, it would cast doubt on the validity of the result.

Mercedes launched a protest immediately after Lewis Hamilton lost the championship on the final lap. The team pointed out the long-established procedure for restarting a race after a Safety Car period had not been followed and that the protocol for allowing lapped cars to re-join the lead lap had been changed.

Their complaints were rejected on the day, and Max Verstappen confirmed as race winner and world champion. But 67 days later the FIA has announced sweeping changes to the future management of race control, including the replacement of the person who took the contested decisions. The move leaves little room for doubt that the complaints of Mercedes, which were dismissed by the stewards in Abu Dhabi, ultimately carried some weight.

Masi decided to bring the Safety Car in a lap earlier than required by the rules. The FIA said today it will create a Virtual Race Control Room to “help to apply the sporting regulations” correctly in future.

Masi chose to allow only the drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen to un-lap themselves, in a break with convention which contradicted his own words of a year earlier. The FIA has said the “un-lapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed.”

Finally, Masi himself is being replaced. In short, while the FIA has not said what went wrong or who was responsible, it has announced it will revise the relevant procedures and replace the person who took the decisions.

You don’t have to look hard to read between the lines here. If the FIA believed its rules were enforced correctly in Abu Dhabi it is hard to imagine it would make such sweeping changes which touch upon every point of dispute which arose from the championship-deciding race.

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It gives a strong impression the FIA, under the new leadership of Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has accepted the season finale was mishandled – with over 100 million people watching.

Mercedes were certain they would have won an appeal over the race had they proceeded with one (a view shared by others). They only chose not to, according to team principal Toto Wolff, because the FIA’s appeal system offered no way for Hamilton to be awarded the title retrospectively.

In the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Wolff said Masi’s decisions “robbed Lewis Hamilton of a deserved world championship”. The sweeping changes being made to race control in response to last year’s controversy vindicate that view.

There was never any possibility that the FIA’s inquiry over Abu Dhabi would result in a change to the outcome of last year’s world championship. But as the wait for the outcome of its analysis dragged on for more than two months, it became clear many felt frustrated by the unjust and unfitting end to a season which had been one of F1’s most competitive for many years.

As many observed in the aftermath of the race, both Hamilton and Verstappen had demonstrated over the course of 2021 that they would make worthy champions. It wasn’t the fault of either driver that the championship was decided in such an unworthy fashion.

F1 has seen acrimonious conclusions to championships before. Ironically, Masi showed his sensitivity to that possibility by indirectly reminding the title contenders not to collide with each other on the eve of the finale.

In the end it wasn’t either of the competitors who triggered the controversy, but the race director himself. That is partly what has made this such a difficult problem to resolve.

But the scale of the changes the FIA has made reflect an acceptance that last season went badly wrong and it cannot be allowed to happen again. Today’s announcement gives F1 the chance to put an end to the acrimony and enter its radical new era of technical regulations with renewed optimism that we may all enjoy a season of great racing which is both exciting and fair until the final lap.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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180 comments on “FIA’s sweeping changes vindicate Mercedes’ belief Hamilton was “robbed” of title”

  1. Mr Ben Sulayem has set a precedent that will haunt F1 for years to come.

    1. What that if a race director proves to be consistently incompetent, and doesn’t follow the rules that they should then be replaced?

      I’m okay with that precedent. By all means let it haunt F1 forever.

      1. What that if a race director proves to be consistently incompetent, and doesn’t follow the rules that they should then be replaced?

        If that were the case, Mr Masi wouldn’t have made it through 2019.

      2. Sincerely, prior to AD, there was plenty of reason to replace Masi or at least to chance his mandate on how to run the races. The mess in the final race was just the 100 ton oak tree that broke the camel’s back.

    2. I guess the RD set the precedent by braking the rules and manipulating the WDC. FIA now just cleaned up the mess.

      1. …by braking the rules…

        Thank goodness they didn’t break anything. Seriously, can’t we just get over this stuff? What’s done is done, a new season approaches. Time to move on.

        1. lol. nice typo…

    3. Completely agree. Newbie mistake that will set a harmful precedent no matter who replaces Masi.

      BTW under those conditions who would want to take over?

  2. What a travesty Abu Dhabi was. It’s good to see the FIA getting probably about as close as they are going to in admitting it was a sham.

    Aside from giving us pretty much now officially an illegitimate WDC*, it’s taken a great deal of enthusiasm about the future of the sport from many of us oldtimers.

    1. It was a travesty, and they’re still dodging the issue that the stewards were supposed to be there as a backstop, and they abjectly failed to do their job, including the driver steward.

    2. I disagree. They have not admitted anything or apologised for anything. Again we see leaders having different rules than everyone else. Remember Horner has had to apologise for bringing the sport in to disrepute and has had to carry out a punishment for comments he made regarding a marshal (And it is right that he did have to apologise and be punished). However the FIA themselves bring the sport into more disrepute than any driver or team member ever has and yet they refuse to apologise or punish themselves. Masi has been their scapegoat as although it was him that made that ridiculous decision, it was made due to the culture of the FIA.

  3. I don’t think the changes of personnel or the introduction of an additional layer of race control really solves the fundamental issues.

    Firstly, the lack of clarity in the regulations, which simultaneously allowed people to point out various ways in which they might have been broken, and also for the stewards to rule that they had all been appropriately followed. And secondly, the tension between “sport” and “show” that put Masi under such pressure to enable a green-flag finish in the first place.

    Obviously we don’t know the full details, as Keith is at pains to point out here. But it feels like a missed opportunity to engage with some of the bigger contradictions within F1 at the moment.

    1. @red-andy

      Firstly, the lack of clarity in the regulations, which simultaneously allowed people to point out various ways in which they might have been broken, and also for the stewards to rule that they had all been appropriately followed.

      The stewards didn’t explain their ruling in any way though. I think they were just trying to save the situation somehow, since they couldn’t alter the result of the race.

      The regulations had never before been interpreted the way Masi did in Abu Dhabi. Masi himself said in 2020 that he couldn’t overrule the safety car procedure in that way.

      I think the “lack of clarity” was rather fabricated in this instance.

    2. I would hope their review of the restart / ending of a SC procedures would adress the issue of the rules being unclear @red-andy. And I do think that some of the steps they announced (race control team, communications as well as having 2 people doing the season) will help bolster race control to make better decisions and avoid the mistake (and the ones later made to then compensate and go wrong in the other direction) we’ve been seeing only too often in the last years.

      As for Masi himself, i could see him not even feeling too inclined to continue. And given that they now more or less admit 23 races is too much for one person, I can see how he would just be totally burnt out by the end of the year, especially as it was combined with overseeing new tracks, updates, etc. as well.

    3. While in many regulations there is a lot of vagueness the safety car rules are not included. The rules regarding the restart of the race are very very clear and have been very clear for some time. We see many race restarts after safety car periods and we always see the rules adhered to perfectly fine. The question that needs answering is why on this occasion did the race controller decide the rules were not to be followed? Yes teams have pushed for races to end under race conditions but I am sure that was always meant to be as long as the rules allowed the race to end that way. Those discussions were simply that and did not override the rules set in place and understood by all teams.

      So we are no closer to understanding why the rules were broken and no answer as to how (given that the FIA seemed to try to say the rules were up to the race director…) that the rules will not be broken in future.

  4. Hopefully these changes in 2022 for race control, means we will never have a final race being so controversial. LH had the car that day and wasn’t going to be denied unless Masi made his one off call.

    Let’s get the 2022 cars on track and see if the FIA will be consistent in application of the rules.

  5. Vindicates me having another watch of how it all unfolded.

  6. Removing the teams communication to the race director is very important so I’m glad they’ve done that. If they punish teams for how they talk to race control that’d be nice as well, as some of last years was bordering on offensive, but at least there being a barrier will help.

    I’m not sure about rotating between 2 people as race director though, as it’ll make it even harder to be consistent with decisions. I also think they should have put in a regulation to deal with the late accident scenario (such as a safety car ban in the last X laps, no releasing of lapped cars with X laps to go, etc.).

    I hope Masi isn’t totally alienated though, even though IMO he made mistake(s) in the final race I think over the season he actually did much better than people give him credit for.

    1. I also think they should have put in a regulation to deal with the late accident scenario

      It would be nice if they said no unlapping if the safety car is called with less than 10 laps.
      Personally I wish they did away with the unlapping entirely.
      If they absolutely desperately want to end under green, then they need a simple if less than x laps = red flag. Restart min 2 laps. And never a 1 lap shoot out of any type ever again!

      1. Personally I wish they did away with the unlapping entirely.
        Totally agree.
        Under SC the chasing car already gets the bonus in closing the gap to the car in front, so why ‘FFS‘ should it get another bonus. The car in front would have lost time in having to negotiate any cars in lapping, so why does a chasing car get a freebie.
        Surely the basic aim should [a la VSC] to place cars in as close as possible to the conditions prior to the SC, including closing the pitlane, unless it is a safety issue!!!

      2. Carlos was right when he said the race should have been red flagged when the Williams crashed. Then Hamilton and Verstappen would both restart on fresh tyres. In a case when five laps or less to the end of the race use the red flag. Stop the clock and when the mess is cleaned up restart the race with the final five laps or what ever.

        1. I agree. Although I also think that there is nothing wrong necessarily with finishing under a SC if the number of laps do not allow a proper race to restart. For instance in Abu Dhabi the fairest outcome for all drivers was to finish under SC and the rules allowed that to happen. What the rules did not allow was to do what we actually ended up with…

          Even Red Bull could not have legitimately argued with the result if it had ended under a SC. Verstappen was miles behind Hamilton and had almost zero chance of winning the race.

    2. I think the communication of the team leaders is removed with the RC Director not the teams communication person so team can still have a link to RC.

    3. I think that as @macleod mentions there WILL still be a channel for communications from the team to race control. But it will be limited to designated personell, and probably go through that race control team instead of straight to the race leader. And it won’t be the team bosses doing it.

      As for the 2 people for the whole season, it kind of indicates to me that Masi himself might have felt pretty burnt out by doing a 20+ race season and it seems a solid move to me to spread that load in the future to avoid it. And with a bigger team, I can actually see a scope for MORE consistency, because they will have their small team to talk things through and agree, instead of 1 person having to make the call after being overloaded with various comments from all the teams, drivers and media.

      1. Oh, sorry, I forgot to include your alias there @mysticarl and I’ll ad @eurobrun as well – They are saying that they will look at the procedures for ending a SC etc, so that might still come.

      2. @bascb lets hope because that was 1 of the problems

        1. Indeed it was, yeah.

  7. As a die hard LH fan I am not disappointed that Max one nor do I think he should lose the WDC as he is a worthy champion. Further, had either driver not left so many points on the table over the course of the season the championship would not have been in the position it was in at the last race. All I wanted was for Masi to be held accountable for his actions. It amazed me that people thought he should not be held accountable for influencing the outcome of the championship with an incorrect interpretation of the rules. Speaking for my self I am please and am moving on/forward.

    1. 100% agree!

    2. Agree with this. Having supported Verstappen for most of the season, his interesting driving in Brazil and Saudi made me go into the final race as a neutral (maybe very slightly leaning more towards Lewis) honestly not minding who won. I have no problem with Verstappen winning. I do have a problem with the manner it was won, and that is not against Verstappen, it is with Masi. As someone pointed out below, I don’t think this is a case of driver vs driver, it is a case of sporting fairness against the show.

      1. True story…..

        Unfortunately, for all concerned actually. Though Max and Red Bull are elated to have won the Championship, I doubt that they realize the magnitude of the push-back they will be facing going forward. I’m sure they would say they don’t care, it is what it is, and they did nothing wrong. Which is all correct, but it is also true that historically the 2021 World Driver’s Championship will always have an asterisk by it. And, anyone mentioning Max as Champion will need to deal with….The Finish. I can even imagine a day might come when our present Champion wished he had flatly refused to accept the outcome, and then instead of being The Pretender, he would be viewed as one of the greatest sportsman in F1 history. Sad, an opportunity missed.

        1. RandomMallard
          18th February 2022, 0:12

          @theroswellite Agree. I accept Max as 2021 World Champion. I don’t like how it finished, or some of his driving near the end of the season, but it’s the official result so I choose to accept that. However, as I’ve put below, I hope I’ll be able to equally remember both the terrific fight Hamilton gave, and the unfortunate conclusion. And I think that is slightly unfair on Max (obviously it’s extremely unfair on Lewis), because, regardless of the some of the earlier incidents, no one deserves to win a championship in those circumstances. And equally, I don’t blame him for celebrating. He has won the World championship, I don’t think you can hold that against him (equally I had nothing wrong with Lewis celebrating in Silverstone), and I’m pretyy sure , being honest with myself, I would probably have reacted the same in the unlikely event I was ever in the same position (Lewis conduct after the race was also extremely commendable I’ll add).

        2. @theroswellite

          the 2021 World Driver’s Championship will always have an asterisk by it

          It sure does feel that way now (to me as well), but I am not sure that it will always be like that. Schumacher, Senna, Prost, all won a championship in controversial circumstances, but only few of us will always remember the asterisk. Prost won the championship in 1989 in equally controversial circumstances as Max last year (and lost it in controversial circumstances the next year btw), but how many people put an asterisk to Prosts title?

          1. I’d say everyone who watched F1 back then, but the blindest biased fans. Same with Schumacher ’94. Of course younger ones who started to watch F1 later mostly dont build up that opinion, which is quite natural and fine.

            Those who watched this season will probably forever remember the circumstances of this paper WDC.

  8. Remember that Spa was a farce as well.

    Charlie was a hard act to follow. Masi never accumulated the credibility to resist external pressures and teams took advantage. The remote ‘VAR’ system will hopefully be less prone to such influences.

    1. @scalextric I think one important moment in this saga actually comes months earlier in Spa. Do you remember RB asking if Perez could rejoin the race during the first red flag (after repairs had been made to his car following his crash on the way to the grid), and Masi responding, before Wheatley had even answered the question, “Jonathon, I know what you’re asking and the answer is no” (or words to that effect), only to be overruled (probably correctly) by the stewards because the first laps behind the SC were counted as formation laps, and the race therefore hadn’t officially “started”? I think that was a key moment in this whole thing, because it showed Masi couldn’t always apply the sporting regs in the correct manner. After that, I don’t find it particularly surprising that things all went downhill.

  9. No more robbed than Max would have been had Lewis won. In fact, nowhere near. To be at the last race level on points with 3 more DNF’s to your name shows he was the better driver over the season. It’s very short sighted to just focus on Abu Dhabi where Max gained 1 place through a bit of overdue luck. Bahrain was a long time ago, if the track limits had been consistent and not changed halfway through, then Max would only have needed 2nd in Abu Dhabi anyway.

    1. I somewhat agree but Max’s unpunished off-track excursion in Brazil definitely caused people to believe that F1 was helping Max in the WDC. And then at the last race, Masi states there will be no unlapping and then reversed minutes later. Overdue luck is one thing, but Max was bailed out down the stretch.

      1. I agree he crossed the line at Brazil and although the drama at Abu Dhabi was amazing to watch, it should never have got that close. A hell of a lot went in Lewis’ favour to get there with a chance.
        Max is an aggressive driver by nature like Lewis, but I still think that got turned up a few notches after the shunt at Silverstone. It will be interesting to see if he reels that in this season.

        1. Davethechicken
          17th February 2022, 21:45

          If he crossed a line in Brazil, he crossed a whole bunch of them in Saudi.

      2. @jimfromus

        And then at the last race,

        Lewis was allowed to cut the chicane. Something that conveniently gets ignored a lot.

    2. I think it’s healthier to not see this as about Hamilton and Verstappen, but about the ‘sport’ itself. What happened in Abu Dhabi was completely inexcusable, it doesn’t matter much which drivers were involved.

      1. That is true, but to say that inconsistencies by race control all went in Verstappens favour to win the title and that Hamilton was robbed is wrong IMO. I feel bad for Masi and feel he deserved more time with additional support and a barrier between him and the team managers.

        1. Strange comment as is your previous one.

          Much of what you indicate are the normal ups and downs and sharing of ‘luck’ pretty consistent with most racing seasons.

          To suggest that for example ignoring the blatant move in Brazil, the astounding lack of any meaningful penalties in Jedda (where by normal standards Max should have lost the championship or at the very least have been behind LH) were anything other than absolute ‘assists’ seems naive.

          Particularly as the last decision to ignore the rule book, invent a new procedure offered up by the ever helpful RB team in the final few laps, specifically awarded a race and thus championship winning certainty to Max whom until that point was being thoroughly beaten.

      2. +1

  10. The announcement came just in time for the Netflix editors to add it to the final episode of this coming season, mark my words!

  11. “The FIA has said the “un-lapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed.””
    It will be interesting to see if the new procedure will be to unlap all cars properly regardless of the number of laps remaining and extend the race accordingly. This of course can cause a race to be extended over and over if incidents occur on the restarts.

    1. @jimfromus I don’t think that would work in F1 because of fuelling. The cars are fuelled to run a set distance, extending that distance would therefore be very difficult. It works (kind of) in NASCAR because they have refuelling, and again, kind of works in Formula E because of how the regeneration works. It would either require them to re-introduce refuelling (which is a separate debate entirely) or add even more fuel to the current cars (which are already very heavy).

    2. I don’t think races can be extended as refueling is banned.

      I think the re-assessment would mean that there will be more red flags than safety cars if an incident occurs towards the end of the race.

    3. I wish they do that as behind a safetycar they use much less fuel. But they could start unlapping much faster then waiting untill the incident is removed by releasing laped cars as soon as possible with double yellows at the incident spot.
      But they don’t have to wait to end untill the unlapped cars are back to the pack.

      The problem is more if there is no laps left like 2-3 laps for the end they should red flag the race as otherwise end the race under safety car but no tyres change for that situation.

  12. The term ‘robbed’ makes this unnecessarily emotional, and pretty much guarantees that the already polarized fanbase will just see the matter on the basis of which driver they’re supporting. Here’s how to state it neutrally: The rules and guidance given to the race director were in conflict, and the race director resolved this conflict by ignoring the rules, presumably because he was under too much pressure. Hamilton lost 7 points to circumstances beyond his control.

    1. The clicks, you know…

      In the end this is a british tabloid F1 site.

      Independence & impartiality not really important values.

    2. The was no conflicting rules at all, Masi just got pressured by Red Bull. If he had ended it under the safety car, he will still be in his job.Not to end a race under safety car was not a rule but a desired end

    3. @aesto There’s a big green word under the title called Comment at the top of the page. This is not a news article. This is an opinion.
      The news article is already posted Here.

      Look around, don’t jump to conclusions all riled up and upset. Calm down.

  13. I agree with the title. I am not the fan of either, even more Hamilton got a notch even below when he started politicising. He seems not have cared one iota by the growth in US crime so after grandstanding it was all dishonest…
    But he should have been the champion.

  14. I think this is encouraging, although the next very important change that is required is the scrapping of the ridiculous agreement that the race should finish under green flags if at all possible. The FIA were never going to actively admit that Abu Dhabi was a farce but acting as though it was is the next best thing.

    I don’t know much about the replacements, but have heard good things about Eduardo Freitas and while the DTM finale was worse than the Formula 1 one that was not the fault of the race director.

    It’s too soon to know for sure, but it looks like Mohammed Ben Sulayem doesn’t want F1 to become a show before a sport, which is an encouraging sign for the future.

    1. @f1frog they also need to change the rule or void the interpretation that the race director can ignore large swathes of the rulebook whenever he wants.

      Changing the rules, adding “within the regulations” to the final 2 points of 15.3 would be the least embarrassing, IMHO. It accepts that the rules as they were written were followed correctly, but that they should be changed to prevent future controversy.

      They could also publicly clarify that 15.3 should not be used to allow the race director to ignore the written procedures. However, this would be an admission that both Masi and the stewards wrongly interpreted the rules say Abu Dhabi, which would be more embarrassing to the FIA.

      There may be a better way to deal with it, but this unrestricted power must go.