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Formula 1

FIA review of Abu Dhabi F1 controversy started this week

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

The FIA’s review of Formula 1’s controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale has started and should be concluded by early February, according to reports.

F1’s title decider was marred by the way a late safety car set up a final-lap shootout between championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, which allowed Verstappen to use fresh soft tyres to pass Hamilton, who had led the entire race comfortably.

Mercedes protested the result based on two procedural infringements from FIA race director Michael Masi that related to letting only the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen unlap themselves before the race restart, and the timing of the restart – which would not have come before the end of the grand prix had the regulations been followed.

The FIA stewards rejected Mercedes’ protest and a few days later the legal side of the issue was formally dropped when Mercedes opted not to commit to an appeal into that decision.

However, that was done following the FIA’s promise of a “detailed analysis and clarification exercise” that intended “to draw any lessons from this situation and clarity to be provided to the participants, media, and fans about the current regulations to preserve the competitive nature of our sport while ensuring the safety of the drivers and officials”.

There was no detail on when the process would begin or how it would be conducted and the matter was complicated by a change in FIA presidency from Jean Todt to Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem Jean Todt FIA F1

The FIA has also not issued any official updates since, while Ben Sulayem was reluctant to comment in his first media appearance in the role shortly before Christmas.

This week it emerged that Hamilton’s F1 future remains in doubt until the outcome of the FIA review, with the implication being that pressure is being put on the FIA to stop taking a passive stance on the matter.

That appears to have triggered a reaction from the FIA, with reports – which The Race understands to be accurate – subsequently emerging that the process finally began on Monday this week and that Ben Sulayem has made it a lead priority.

The FIA promised that “any identified meaningful feedback and conclusions be made before the beginning of the 2022 season” and the next meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on February 3 is said to be the deadline.

This will enable any relevant recommendations to be tabled and discussed in time to be ratified ahead of pre-season testing.

FIA secretary general for motorsport Peter Bayer (pictured below alongside Ross Brawn), who also heads up its single-seater matters, and new deputy president for sport Robert Reid are likely to be key figures in the review.

Peter Bayer Ross Brawn

Bayer was namechecked by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff in December as giving him “assurances” the FIA would make changes to “close gaps that have opened up more and more over the last few years”.

Though the high-stakes nature of what happened around the handling of the safety car make it the headline item for the FIA’s review, the scrutiny goes beyond the specific events of Abu Dhabi.

There has been growing dissatisfaction among F1 teams over the way rules are enforced, particularly since the late Charlie Whiting passed away and was succeeded by Masi as race director, with Nikolas Tombazis leading the FIA’s technical department.

The FIA’s administrative structure listed Masi and Tombazis as responsible for FIA single-seater matters until a reshuffle put that under Bayer’s remit for 2022.

But there has been no indication from the FIA whether Masi will continue in what appears to be an untenable position as race director, or if it is correct that Tombazis’s role may be at risk as well.

Nikolas Tombazis F1

The BBC reported both Masi and Tombazis may need to be replaced to placate Mercedes, with Tombazis under scrutiny because of the four small but significant aerodynamic rule changes that Mercedes feels were brought in for 2021 to curb its dominance, and which angered Aston Martin.

That is something Wolff referred to last year when he criticised the way the FIA has been governing F1 in recent times, stating: “We are held ransom by ad hoc decisions in every field – technical and sporting.”

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