The FIA’s report on the contentious conclusion to the 2021 world championship was a long time coming.
However the fact any report appeared at all was remarkable. The sport’s governing body had a strong incentive to downplay its reaction to the Abu Dhabi controversy, and in the immediate aftermath of the race that seemed to be the direction it would take.
In announcing its reaction the FIA conceded only that the handling of the disputed Abu Dhabi Grand Prix “generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans”, which appeared to leave no room for an admission something had gone badly wrong. In response it promised an “analysis and clarification exercise”.
But, to the FIA’s credit, the end product was not as toothless as this euphemistically-worded pitch may have led readers to expect.
Interest in its findings was naturally high. F1 boasted 107 million people watched last year’s season finale but what they saw reflected poorly on the management of the world championship.
Lewis Hamilton was on course to overhaul Max Verstappen’s championship lead until the disputed final lap restart following which his rival passed him to win. Race director Michael Masi’s sudden decision to deviate from past practice, made while being lobbied by both interested teams, provoked incomprehension at first followed by fury as it swung the outcome of the world championship.
Three months later the FIA delivered its verdict on Masi’s handling of the race. The outcome turned out to be less a “clarification” of a “misunderstanding”, more an explanation of what went wrong and how it intends to prevent a repeat.
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The clearest measure of the seriousness of a mistake is whether the person who committed it is allowed to remain in the same position of responsibility. Long before the FIA’s report emerged it was made known this wouldn’t happen, and that Masi would be replaced in the role.
The report is long on the explanations for the pressure Masi found himself under at the time and short on the details of the errors made. Indeed, the FIA World Motor Sport Council’s statement which accompanied the report states what went wrong far more plainly, noting: “The race director called the safety car back into the pit lane without it having completed an additional lap as required by the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations.”
On Masi’s disputed decision to only allow the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to rejoin the lead lap, it adds: “human error lead to the fact that not all cars were allowed to un-lap themselves.” Note the phrase “human error” does not occur within the report itself.
The report contains many paragraphs describing the pressure Masi was under, all of which is no doubt valid. But there is also an element of circular reasoning here: The time pressure was a partly self-inflicted consequence of the decision to bring the Safety Car in a lap earlier than the regulations specified. Adhering to the rules became a secondary consideration to restarting the race for the benefit of ‘the show’.
As a result of the report the FIA has a new, three-person race direction team equipped with a new Remote Operations Centre. This will hopefully prove more than sufficient to prevent future race directors deciding on a whim to implement new interpretations of vital rules in the dying laps of world championship-deciding races (or any other time).
But what if it isn’t? What if a future race director makes some other error which decides a pole position, a race victory or, as in this case, a world championship?
Speaking in February, weeks before the FIA announced the findings of its “analysis and clarification exercise”, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl made the wise observation that they needed to do more than just identify what went wrong in a single instance and address it for the future.
“We need to accept mistakes can happen, on the team’s side but also on the FIA’s side,” said Seidl.
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“For me it’s very important as well that we also discuss a racing mechanism where you have, let’s say that we’re in a position that if mistakes happen, where should you raise your hand and admit them and have a mechanism in place in order to correct those mistakes also, or correct the consequences that such mistakes or controversies could have.
“That is as important as trying to avoid similar controversies in the first place.”
Mercedes eventually backed down from appealing against the race result because it realised that even if they were successful, the outcome would be the cancellation of the Abu Dhabi race result, which would not alter Hamilton’s championship defeat.
No mechanism existed with the FIA’s rules to restore his lost title. Laps have been retroactively deleted from race results due to errors with the chequered flag, but the rules do not allow for the same to take place when the race director has made a mistake.
However Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was keener to praise the progress the FIA has made, under new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, by being open over its findings, when not everyone wanted the report to be published. “We need to see the step change that has been made by releasing the report line-by-line,” said Wolff in response to a question from RaceFans.
“I’m happy that there is more transparency. I know from my conversations with Mohammed that he’s very resolute in putting in a system that is prone to less mistakes. There’s good people, there will be a virtual race room between the FIA offices and I think this is what counts.
“Dwelling about Abu Dhabi doesn’t make my or our life easier at all. It’s happened, the trophy is in somebody else’s cabinet, and that’s it. Chapter closed. And I think the FIA will have learned how things should not be handled.”
Whatever your opinion of how the Abu Dhabi row was handled, the desire to move on from it is surely universally shared at this point. But it’s in the best interests of all concerned not to proceed too hastily, before all lessons have been learned.
Otherwise the next team to be wronged may have fewer trophies in their cabinet than Mercedes, and be less willing to take a lost championship on the chin in quite the same way.
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117 comments on “The omission in the FIA’s Abu Dhabi report which may store up trouble for the future”
4th April 2022, 12:32
Can we move on from this? The bloke has lost the job already.
4th April 2022, 12:45
Click bait. These articles still do well in the UK.
4th April 2022, 12:54
Yep, the necessary Web clicks are a priority.
It’s a pity a once serious f1 fan site is so obviously partnering with only one driver.
After Dieter left there is little objective journalism.
4th April 2022, 13:05
I think it’d be alright if Keith just stopped emphasising that he feels that Hamilton had certain victory stolen from him. That’s not factual reporting, that is opinion.
It wasn’t certain, and still wouldn’t have been even if someone else had been in Race Control.
4th April 2022, 13:20
He never mentions how Hamilton stole first position (according to the rules at least) at the very beginning of the race. Strictly speaking he did have to give the position back, the rest is only subjective interpretation of the rules. Not just that, he was told to give “time” back, and he didn’t even do that and there was no reaction (he walked away with extra 4 seconds I think?). If this didn’t happen, in the last lap drama their positions would be reversed, if it’d still happen. But dragging on this nonsense is really becoming tasteless now. I hate sore losers (which Hamilton wasn’t, I applaud his reaction, but his fans don’t follow his example).
4th April 2022, 23:36
That’s true, dex, hamilton’s reaction was significantly better than the fans’.
6th April 2022, 17:55
Yeah. No valid argument:
– Makes it sound like “his” victory was a foregone conclusion
– Very selective with the decisions made by FIA officials. Like it’s terrible when it against Sore Lew but no biggie when it was in the other direction (e.g. 1st lap)
At least it helps clarify how many journalists and not just in politics (though adjacent), participate in the “let’s sell this narrative and see how many can we convince” that is so in vogue this days.
4th April 2022, 13:08
And there it is.
4th April 2022, 14:02
If you don’t want to read about it, you can just avoid clicking on it. Nobody is forcing you to read these articles.
4th April 2022, 16:59
Yeah, this is one of those narratives that won’t ever be dropped. A bit like how certain media decided in 2007 that Alonso and Hamilton would be enemies and that Alonso was the villain. Still running strong with that lazy narrative today.
Some fans, especially in the UK, think that if they talk enough about this, complain enough, write angry comments, that they will somehow make an asterisk appear next to Verstappen’s 2021 WDC. Of course they will fail at that because it was epic and it will be more remembered as the driver who dethroned Hamilton. A bit like when Alonso dethroned Schumacher. It was a big milestone.
4th April 2022, 17:36
This isn’t about Hamilton, you narrow-minded pinhead.
This is about the fact that if Verstappen, or LeClerc, or Schumacher, or anyone else, gets the title stolen due to bad refereeing, THERE IS NO WAY TO FIX IT.
It was demonstrated in Abu Dhabi that if the race director screws up, there is no mechanism within the arbitration process of the FIA, to rectify the mistake. The FIA stewards are going to back the RD, the FIA appeals process will back the FIA stewards.
Stop obsessing about Hamilton, and try to see the sport as a whole.
4th April 2022, 19:42
You are effectively calling for the Flashback system used in the F1 games, in arbitration form.
Where is your outrage for Verstappen when he gets the literal apex moment of his life taken away from him through no fault of his own – nor his team’s – in your ideal reality?
You HAVE to move on, retroactively taking wins, points, championships etc away based on “fairness” is a non-starter. Had Max copied MSC at Jerez ’97 then that would have been a scenario in which a personal punishment, which is what you are advocating, would fit, but the absolute onus has to be on the various governing bodies to run a watertight ship.
It is ludicrous to think that the teams in F1 would be willing to give up their trophy cabinets to cover for flaws in FIA etc recruitment and rule making.
5th April 2022, 18:15
my brother in Christ, triggered much? No need for the name-calling. I was giving an illustration regarding the narratives that the media choose to run with and that fans end up parroting for years to come. 2007 is an example and 2021 will be another example.
Whatever opinion you have of the matter, it’s time to move on. It wasn’t an optimal way to end the championship, but the reality is that it wasn’t even the most controversial stewarding call that year.
Let me also correct another misstatement, there is a mechanism to correct mistakes made by stewards and race directors. Mercedes went through that process, eventually choosing to withdraw. We’ve had many instances where points have been taken away and then given back after appeal. I remember the 1999 Malaysia-Ferrari controversy with their bargeboards. Ferrari ended up winning that WCC because of it.
In 1995 Michael Schumacher won a race by deliberately crashing into Damon Hill. Similar things happened, although much less obvious in 88′ and 89′ between Prost and Senna.
Now, those, are truly controversial. What happened in Abu Dhabi was problematic because of the ambiguity in the rules. The loophole has been closed or so it seems. There will never be another situation like Abu Dhabi 2021. But don’t ever forget that Lewis Hamilton lost that championship on track, by getting overtaken on track, while leaving the inside open. There was nothing ambiguous about that.
5th April 2022, 18:46
Both of you missed the point. As long as the FIA is responsible for fixing the mistakes made by FIA officials, it won’t happen, no matter who the driver is.
The Abu Dhabi report says that Michael Masi didn’t enforce the rules correctly. What they didn’t talk about was the pretzel-like logic applied by the stewards to refuse to acknowledge that fundamental fact.
What’s missing is an impartial path for the teams to follow to rectify such errors. Assuming there won’t be any in the future is… optimistic. At best.
And I’m “triggered” by the fans who can’t consider this particular issue without mentioning Hamilton or Verstappen, because it’s not about the drivers. It’s about the FIA and their inability to admit that this might happen again.
4th April 2022, 20:12
So what second rate country do you hail from?
5th April 2022, 3:30
The same one you are from.
4th April 2022, 12:52
Yes you can. Just move on to the next article, it’s really simple. Unless you want to censor what’s being discussed within F1, F1 publications for reporting it, and posters from commenting on it.
4th April 2022, 13:00
Yes, because when we talk about “censorship” we’re talking about a person freely commenting on a web article about a dumb racing thing. That’s exactly what that’s about.
4th April 2022, 17:32
You are here.
The point is waaaaay over there.
You missed it.
5th April 2022, 14:42
U are entitled to move on. Just do it, and dont complain about articles not interesting to you.
4th April 2022, 12:39
The report also failed to address the role of the stewards, who went out of their way to protect Masi and tried to argue some ridiculous notion of the race director having a god-given power to override everything.
Those specific stewards (and also those who, for example, refuse to give obvious penalties like that of Max in Brazil) should also have been “fired”.
4th April 2022, 13:01
4th April 2022, 13:32
The role that the stewards played does also need looking into because they did have a good opportunity to overturn that farce
4th April 2022, 15:01
@3dom That is, in my opinion, the main problem with Abu Dhabi. How do you overturn it? They ruled, probably correctly, that voiding the final lap wasn’t appropriate as there isn’t a mechanism that allows for this to happen (unless the chequered flag is flown early but that’s a very specific scenario), and even if they did, it would likely have had the effect of voiding the entire race because it wouldn’t have gone the distance. The only provisions for shorter races are when it’s been red flagged or the chequered flag is shown early. And yes they can change the results at their own discretion, but that would be extremely difficult to do when Verstappen hasn’t done anything wrong himself. TLDR, in my opinion, not only did Masi make some wrong decisions, but the nature of those decisions and the rulebook made it impossible to overturn the results of those decisions, and that, as Seidl says, is what needs to be addressed next.
Red Andy (@red-andy)
4th April 2022, 18:16
This gets repeated a lot (and it is of course part of the Mercedes narrative that *of course* they would have won their appeal, but tragically there was no suitable remedy for them) – but there is the example of Canada 1995 for a race result that was declared a lap early with neither a red flag nor an early chequered flag.
On that occasion, a track invasion just after race winner Alesi crossed the finish line prevented some of the cars further down the order from finishing, as race control ordered them to stop on track; rather than score them a lap down the results were declared from the lap prior.
Admittedly this is not an exact analogy with Abu Dhabi, but it does show that there are some circumstances in which a lap can be essentially voided without having to annul the entire race.
5th April 2022, 14:12
@red-andy My bad, I was not aware of this scenario. As you note, it’s a very interesting scenario. Although in Abu Dhabi’s case I’m sure that Red Bull would have appealed had they taken the results a lap earlier, because. I should have researched this more thoroughly. Thanks for bringing this to my attention though.
4th April 2022, 13:52
Indeed the report failed to mention the stewards, and so have all the accredited media. Also missing is the crucial fact that Masi’s initial decision was going to give a racing finish and did not need changing for any reason whatsoever, apart from which driver was going to have the advantage.
4th April 2022, 12:44
Oh boy, this comments section is going to turn into absolute shower. Sigh. I wish people could comment constructively without the baiting and backbiting.
On the subject itself: the FIA needs to be held accountable and what ocurred must never be repeated, irrespective of the drivers and teams involved. A shameful episode that brought the sport into disripute.
4th April 2022, 12:49
Or to look at it from the other side, @bradders – people must remember that the FIA owns F1, and has sole authority over the rules, their interpretations and their application.
They can do whatever they want, and ultimately there’s nothing anyone else can do about it. If they say everything’s okay, then it is.
Private enterprise (which F1 is) is a double-edged sword. What’s good for some is bad for others.
4th April 2022, 13:04
Sure thing, S. They absolutely do, you’re right.
But they cannot wince at the criticsm which is then levelled at them when they interpret the rules in an unprecedented fashion. Saying everything is okay does not make it so. Perhaps in their bubble, but not outside of that.
4th April 2022, 13:24
Nobody likes to be criticised – especially if they felt their actions were justified in the circumstances.
If the FIA are satisfied with what’s going on in their bubble, then that’s all that matters. It’s their bubble.
We can’t change it, nor should we try to.
4th April 2022, 13:42
@S But there is surely a limit to what they can get away with, because if they turn fans off the sport, then they reduce the revenue within motorsport which doesn’t just affect the stakeholders in motorsport but surely affects the FIA themselves. It’s all linked
4th April 2022, 14:26
I guess there is a limit, @3dom.
But each person has a different limit, and each has their own reasons for having it where it is.
Consider that we are still talking about the 2021 season finish now, 5 months later and 2 events into the 2022 season. That’s incredible engagement in this day and age – especially for something that, in global terms, is really quite insignificant.
Viewership for the beginning of this year is up, online engagement is high and I’d bet there are more than a few of sponsors on F1 cars that weren’t there at this time last year.
Sensationalism works, even though apparently nobody likes it.
4th April 2022, 19:52
You say there’s a limit, yet for example F1’s popularity under the ever so slightly despotic Jean-Marie Balestre went skyrocketing, and a large part of the reason for that was JMB messing about playing favourites, making up rules on the fly (see what Senna got done for at the Suzuka chicane) and generally just being enough of a capital C to keep the F1 fraternity hot under the collar but glad to be there all the same.
Perhaps despite F1’s massive changes since those days, all this sort of tabloid-ish outrage is just as much an attractor for viewership as it was back then.
4th April 2022, 14:17
Maybe, but there are limits, though. FIA has to mind the sponsors. If they feel the sport is handled very badly and start to worry that reflects on their brands, there’s trouble.
4th April 2022, 16:03
Are you referring to the 8 years of hybrid era where one team had a complete advantage over all other teams? An era where every championship except the last was contested by two drivers from one team giving us a champion each year who really just had it way too easy as Damion Hill likes to say all of the time. “Just way too easy.” Why are there not more stories on the woeful pathetic start Mercedes have made this year on this site? Is it the shabbiest start to a year by a constructors champion ever? They should get a trophy for their efforts to make up for the one they lost last year. Or a story or two on Hamilton’s state of mind at the moment? I have no issue pointing the bias out. It’s as obvious as day. Every time I read an article on this subject I think of the last lap of last year and the joy to the majority of the world it brought. Absolute pandemonium it was. Beautiful and glorious and shiny. The article was a good read. I have wondered why certain brains at Mercedes left and moved else where. I wonder if there was what you may consider to be toxicity in the camp. Perhaps some of the staff that left had watched Aliens for the first time and it all hit home for them. Game over man! Game over!
4th April 2022, 12:45
More importantly the report does not clarify how soon can the race director call that no cars can unlap. That was the mistake that started it all back in Abu Dhabi.
David BR (@david-br)
4th April 2022, 12:46
So that’s admitting the race should have finished under the SC and Lewis Hamilton should be an 8-time champion, Verstappen a 0-time champion. It’s as good as we’re going to get.
Could it happen again? Yep.
Back to 2022.
4th April 2022, 12:57
But it’s not in the report. And the only theoretical option was to null the result.
With the same deserved champion as result.
David BR (@david-br)
4th April 2022, 14:58
I know it wasn’t in the report; that was precisely the point I was making with ‘it’s as good [or bad] as we’re going to get.’
‘Deserved’ is a value judgment for another time: here FIA has admitted in an ‘officially unofficial’ and indirect way that the race (and championship) would have ended differently had its own regulations been followed, that’s all.
4th April 2022, 15:17
No, they didn’t. They said nothing of the sort.
David BR (@david-br)
4th April 2022, 15:58
OK! happy that’s settled then.
4th April 2022, 21:56
I’m curious, which part of the quoted text “The race director called the safety car back into the pit lane without it having completed an additional lap as required by the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations.” did you not understand?
The “additional lap as required” would have meant the safety car came in next time round, and released from behind the safety car, LH would have led the sequence of cars across the start/finish line.
Chequered flags waves, everyone heads to park ferme, first three drivers stand on podium:
Sounds like a different result to me.
Order of crossing the line assumes no-one tries a Schumacher and does an (illegal) overtake between the pit entrance and the line
BTW. Contrary to statements below, the rules-correct finish would not be “under the safety car” it would have been a lead driver led restart at the finish (bit of a mind twist)
5th April 2022, 3:55
I understood it all, Steve.
Perhaps you can point out the part where they make reference to the race results?
You probably can’t, because this report isn’t about race results.
The additional lap could have happened one lap prior to the end of the race, thus leaving the race to still end under green. It could have happened any time, for that matter.
As such, the FIA report deals only with the things they can control and are directly responsible for – the application of the rules.
Unless you are one of those people who believe the FIA forced a specific result?
4th April 2022, 13:30
It’s not admitting that at all @david-br.
It’s saying that the SC should have stayed out for one more lap – not that the race should have ended under SC.
The rule and the circumstances are two separate issues.
4th April 2022, 14:06
If the SC had stayed out one more lap, the race would have finished under the SC. Therefore if the SC should have stayed out one more lap, the race should have ended under the SC. The two things are intrinsically linked, so I don’t understand how this sentence makes any sense…
4th April 2022, 14:17
But there is no “if”.
4th April 2022, 14:49
I agree. No ifs about Silverstone either. All this nonsense about being deliberate, black flags, stolen victories, etc. is just an odd ball’s fantasy. No matter how many times they post it.
You would think those who have an excuse for every Max issue during the 2021 season would have moved on by now; especially given they are consistently on here whinging at everyone else to move on.
4th April 2022, 14:37
Not “the race should have ended under SC.” They haven’t mentioned the ending of the race OR the specific timing circumstances. You are taking 1 and 1 and adding it up to 3, @drmouse.
The FIA are saying that a rule was misinterpreted/misapplied and that is what they are addressing.
The timing is not relevant in this report. If it had all happened 3 laps earlier, I’d still expect the report to be identical.
Actions and consequences.
They may be linked, but they are still separate considerations.
David BR (@david-br)
4th April 2022, 15:01
Actually should be
True, had the race director altered other decisions, like deciding to let all lapped drivers unlap or none of them, then a different calculation would apply. But I suspect the result would have been a race win for Lewis either way.
4th April 2022, 15:08
If you should have given me £100 but didn’t, I should have £100 more than I do. If I should have caught a flight to Berlin, I should be in Berlin. If the SC should have stayed out for one more lap when there was only one lap remaining, the race should have finished under the SC. They may be actions and consequences, but one directly infers the other. They are a single concern, directly linked in a way which provides no alternative. To try to argue one without the other is illogical and, frankly, laughable.
4th April 2022, 15:51
The report doesn’t mention, and isn’t concerned with:
Is there a rule which states I should give you £100? Did I write it? Do I get to interpret and apply it?
If you got onto a plane to Berlin, but it was redirected, you might not end up in Berlin. Who knows, you may even have boarded the wrong plane.
In this report, the FIA is saying ‘the SC should have stayed out for one lap longer, regardless of what lap it was. The end. That’s all we are talking about.’
You may want them to write more, but they didn’t. And won’t.
I think I’ve adequately explained action and consequence as separate entities. Use a dictionary if you need more info.
4th April 2022, 13:32
If you want to be fair to the written rule then Lewis should have given the place back on lap one but Masi shot the RedBull protests down. Really the 2 big decisions in that race should have been reversed which would have favoured Merc as I think Lewis would have got past Max again with his straight line speed advantage. As it turned out it didn’t and Max finally had some luck come his way.
4th April 2022, 23:42
Indeed, which was about fair for the whole 2021, in fact hamilton still gained a lot of points through luck\verstappen’s bad luck on balance in the season.
5th April 2022, 8:48
4th April 2022, 12:46
To be honest, one of the outcome from the incident is a better handling of incidents. I’ve noticed few times during the first two races that race director is quick to deploy VSC when it is clear the incident can’t be resolved under (double waved) yellow, then eventually deploy SC. I think this is the proper approach to go gradually and not necessarily to stick to one choice for too long if it appears it is not the appropriate one. Have to give credits where it’s due.
The report is more about the changes made after the event that the report itself, and, for once, F1 hasn’t just defended itself and buried its head in the sand. Let’s move on, but glad some indications about the way to follow have been provided (not clear