What FIA rules is the F1 race director adjudged to have broken? 11 months ago

What FIA rules is the F1 race director adjudged to have broken?

Max Verstappen won the world title in a controversial fashion

Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ended in controversy as Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the race to win the world championship.

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It looked as though Hamilton - who is set to be knighted this Wednesday - was cruising towards victory when Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barriers, leading to a safety car being deployed.

This was vital for Verstappen, who was able to put on a set of soft tyres, as it allowed him to go after race leader Hamilton in just one final lap permitted by Race Control.

The Dutchman was behind five back-lying drivers, all of whom were initially told that they were not allowed to pass the safety car and 'un-lap' themselves.

However, the initial decision was overturned and the lapped cars were ordered to overtake the safety car - which effectively cleared the way for Verstappen to come right up behind Hamilton when the safety car exited the track.

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With one lap remaining, Verstappen benefited from his new soft tyres and passed Hamilton to win his maiden world championship - becoming the first Dutchman to ever win the title.

Mercedes appealed against the safety car decision, only for it to be dismissed by stewards.

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Michael Masi and the FIA have received heavy criticism for the controversial decision at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but what rules is the F1 race director adjudged to have broken?

Let's take a look.

The first protest:

Protest by Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team against Car 33, alleged breach of Article 48.8 of the 2021 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations

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Red Bull argued that Car 44 was not “overtaken” by Car 33, that both cars were “on and off the throttle” and that there were “a million precedents” under Safety Car where cars had pulled alongside then moved back behind the Car that was in front. 

Conclusions of the Stewards: The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible. Having considered the various statements made by the parties. The Stewards determine that although Car 33 did at one stage, for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of Car 44, at a time when both cars where accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended (i.e. at the line).

It is important to note that this specific protest was the 'less serious' of the two that were submitted by Mercedes, and it was unlikely to ever be upheld due to the lack of evidence surrounding it.

However, Mercedes did appeal against the possibility of Verstappen overtaking Hamilton when the safety car was on track, which supposedly occurred when the Brit slowed down and Verstappen’s front wing moved ahead of the Brit for a second.

Whenever a yellow flag and safety car are deployed, all of the cars on track must hold their position until the safety car is removed or they are instructed to do anything different.

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A yellow flag means overtaking is prohibited due to danger near the track, which was the case in Sunday's race when Latifi crashed into the barriers. As well as this, a speed reduction is required.

As many people expected, FIA stated that pictures appeared inconclusive and deemed it inadmissible, therefore throwing the first protest out.

The second protest

Protest by Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team against the classification established at the end of the Competition, alleged breach of Article 48.12 of the 2021 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations.

Having considered the various statements made by the parties the Stewards determine the following: 

That Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control the use of the safety car, which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal. 

That although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to the pits at the end of the following lap, Article 48.13 overrides that and once the message “Safety Car in this lap” has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap. 

That notwithstanding Mercedes’ request that the Stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the Stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate. 

Accordingly, the Protest is dismissed. The Protest Deposit is not refunded.

While Mercedes' first protest was unlikely to be upheld and impact the official result of the race, the second protest was extremely serious - taking around four-and-a-half-hours to determine.

This protest related to the decision to allow the lapped cars to be overtaken, which appeared extremely controversial at the time and has continued to spark debate following the conclusion of the race.

When Williams' Latifi crashed and caused the safety car to enter the track, the race stewards announced that lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake.

However, they then reversed their initial decision and told the lapped cars to overtake the safety car.

This was significant because had the lapped cars remained on track when the safety car was removed, Verstappen would have struggled to get past them in time to properly compete with Hamilton - who most likely would have raced to victory with relative ease.

Yet, because race controls decided that lapped cars would be removed from the situation on track, it allowed the Dutchman - who had just pitted for fresh, soft tyres - to cruise past Hamilton, who was racing on old tyres, to secure victory.

What is un-lapping?

Un-lapping was a phrase used on a number of occasions during and following the aftermath of Sunday's race, leaving some people confused by what exactly it actually means.

In layman's terms, un-lapping occurs when cars at the back of the race are able to effectively retake those who have previously lapped them, during yellow flag events.

When un-lapping takes place, it usually sees all cars on track bunched up in a tight order so that they can follow the safety car and gives officials time and space to clean up the area of the track affected by, for example, a crashed car.

What was Mercedes' argument?

The main concern for Mercedes was the interpretation of when exactly cars are allowed to un-lap when the safety car is present.

Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel were all between Verstappen and Hamilton, before they were all told to pass the safety car.

However, other lapped cars - Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher - were not instructed to pass the safety car.

Mercedes' argument centred around the query of why the safety car wasn't allowed to stay out until all lapped cars had un-lapped themselves.

Should all lapped cars have been required to un-lap themselves, it would most likely have resulted in the end of the race and Hamilton would have won.

Despite possessing what looked to be a legitimate claim, the decision came down to race director Masi and during the appeal it was given to race stewards.

A decision on the appeal was eventually made, with the stewards deciding to throw out Mercedes' second and most important protest.

What happens now?

Mercedes have lodged an intention to appeal the verdict of the second protest dismissal, which relates to the Safety Car protocol.

In simple terms, it gives the constructors 96 hours from when the intention was lodged for them to decide whether they want to take the appeal any further and if they do, to make the necessary submission.

At the moment, it is unclear whether or not Mercedes will opt to appeal the dismissal, but if they are keen to take it further, it has to be sorted before Thursday.

The FIA's Prize Giving ceremony - which sees the trophy handed over to the world champion - takes place on Thursday and that marks the cut-off for the appeal to be made.

For now, Verstappen remains as the Formula 1 champion - whether he remains as that will rest on Mercedes' decision to take the appeal further or to simply pull away from it.

Either way, it looks as though the controversy is far from over.