It was supposed to be the most thrilling end to a Formula 1 season we’d seen in years, with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton heading into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend on equal points. And yet, what transpired in the closing stages of the race has left the sport mired in controversy.
As you’ll likely know unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days, unusual handling of the late safety car period by Race Director Michael Masi benefited eventual driver’s champion Verstappen and his Red Bull team, prompting Mercedes to protest on two counts. Both were overruled and Merc appealed, but on Thursday, the outfit announced it was dropping its appeal.
The cause of Mercedes’ ire was Masi’s decision to only allow some cars to unlap themselves towards the end of the safety car period (all of those between Verstappen and Hamilton) and restarted the race a lap earlier than the regulations dictate. This set up a one-lap sprint to the flag with the Red Bull driver on fresh soft tyres right behind his title rival wearing well-worn hards.
The FIA’s stance is that the race director has the power to dispense with usual safety car procedures should they wish. Earlier on Thursday, it released a statement that appeared to misread the room rather badly, blaming a “significant misunderstanding” from teams, fans and drivers for causing “an argument that is currently tarnishing the image of the Championship.”
To its credit, though, the FIA has pledged to perform “a detailed analysis and clarification exercise for the future,” putting into place any lessons learned in time for the 2022 season. Given some of the inconsistent and at times downright odd stewarding throughout the year - including the eyebrow-raising outcome of Verstappen and Hamilton’s lap one clash earlier in this very race - this can only be a good thing. Indeed
It’s this part of the FIA’s statement that prompted Mercedes to drop its appeal. In an open letter, the team said it had “appealed in the interest of sporting fairness,” but had “since been in a constructive dialogue with the FIA and Formula 1 to create clarity for the future, so that all competitors know the rules under which they are racing”.
Mercedes lauded its rivals, noting: “To Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing: we would like to express our sincere respect for your achievements this season. You made this Formula 1 Championship title fight truly epic.”
It concluded: “The Mercedes-AMG Petronas team will actively work with this commission to build a better Formula 1 - for every team and every fan who loves this sport as much as we do. We will hold the FIA accountable for this process and we hereby withdraw our appeal.”