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Formula 1

Should Mercedes push on with its F1 finale appeal? A debate

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

The world of Formula 1 is holding its breath as it awaits Mercedes’ decision on whether or not it will appeal Max Verstappen’s 2021 world championship.

The controversial closing laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix outraged the Mercedes team, which saw its driver Lewis Hamilton fail to clinch an eighth world championship after he was passed by Verstappen in a one-lap shootout at the end of the race.

Mercedes protested the circumstances leading up to that one-lap shootout, only to have its protest rejected on Sunday night.

It then lodged its intention to appeal that decision and then had 96 hours (until this Thursday) to decide whether or not to pursue its appeal.

The dilemma currently facing Mercedes formed a key part of the discussion on this week’s episode of The Race F1 Podcast.

Dec 12 : Abu Dhabi Grand Prix review

Host Edd Straw debated with his fellow F1 writers Scott Mitchell and Mark Hughes over whether Mercedes had a case, what the outcome might be and if it’s worth Mercedes pursuing it.

“I don’t think there’s any chance this result is going to change, there isn’t any realistic chance Max Verstappen won’t be champion,” Straw stated.

“But there are problems here, and Mercedes has got a case that race control got this spectacularly wrong.”

Mitchell agreed with Straw’s assessment that an appeal would fail, but also criticised the explanation that the FIA stewards gave after the race, believing it “gives some grounds” for a Mercedes appeal.

“I don’t think it will necessarily change anything. But I just think it’s not a frivolous protest in the first place,” Mitchell added.

“It’s not spurious or anything like that. It’s legitimate, we can all see… the FIA stewards have even admitted that one of the regulations wasn’t followed fully.

“It just depends on what Mercedes decides is best to do now. Ultimately, there is a little bit of a consideration for them to make, in that there is going to be a lot of blowback if they do go through with an appeal.

F1 safety car Abu Dhabi GP

“It’s legitimate enough to protest, and everyone saw what happened and had pretty strong opinions on it.

“So lodging the [failed] protest, I don’t think causes them any massive kickback in terms of a PR problem.

“But appealing it, dragging the whole thing out more is a little bit more for them to consider.

“They’re probably better off thinking ‘we’ve got leverage here with our strong position, what might we want from the FIA to consider dropping the appeal, or not going through with the appeal?’ ”

Hughes agreed that F1 “cannot change the outcome of the world championship”, believing it would be “nonsense” to do so in the case of a Mercedes appeal.

“I think that’s a non-starter and I don’t think we will see that,” Hughes said in regards to the possibility of a Mercedes appeal.

There was plenty of talk pre-weekend about fears that a collision between the title rivals could decide things, and in that case, a points deduction – something FIA race director Michael Masi reminded the drivers on the eve of the Abu Dhabi GP weekend – might have been more palatable to fans.

But a retrospective championship change on the basis of potential failings that are belonging to the stewards or race director is a different matter, with Mitchell saying it would be an “enormous thing for them to go as far as changing it now”.

Straw believes it’s a “failure of race control, when push comes to shove”.

“Now Masi has got a very difficult job, being the race director is not easy. But it wasn’t well-executed,” Straw said.

Michael Masi FIA race director F1

“It’s not Hamilton and Mercedes’ fault this happened, it’s not Verstappen and Red Bull’s fault it happened, they had a situation that presented itself and they did what they were meant to do.

“But it’s still a mess, there’s a certain irony that it was nothing to do with either of the competing teams.

“What the FIA will want is for Mercedes to issue a statement saying ‘we’re not happy with what happened, we’re not going to proceed with our appeal for the good of the sport’.

“It’s a case of, how can they convince Mercedes to do that? But you can’t blame Mercedes.

“It’s just a shame that what has been such an amazing finish to it has been overshadowed. Max Verstappen’s first world championship has been overshadowed.”

Mitchell agreed, saying the conclusion will likely be that “Mercedes have to come out and say ‘we don’t like it, but we have to go along with it’ “.

He also expressed sympathy for Verstappen and the question marks that could be raised over his title triumph.

“We had for a period after the race a question mark over the identity of the world champion, even now when there’s a chance of an appeal, there’s still a question mark,” he added.

Max Verstappen Red Bull F1

“There will be people who for years to come will look back and say that Verstappen title was only because of this.

“It puts an unnecessary cloud over Max’s title, and I hope that passes because he has been phenomenal this season. He’s such a worthy champion, he doesn’t deserve this to be questioned, the integrity of his success does not deserve to be questioned.

“Neither drivers would because they’ve both been absolutely mega this year. Max is absolutely deserving of this title.

“It didn’t come the way he’d have wanted or expected, it’s just a shame this has given people the opportunity to then target, question and attack the validity of what Max has done.”

Ultimately the trio agreed that the focus should not be on changing the championship result but by fixing the failures in the management of the races.

“It’s about what can be done to get these races run properly,” Straw concluded.

Abu Dhabi GP F1

“I’ve had reservations about the way they’ve been run recently. Some of the stewards’ decisions, some of the race control decisions.

“This needs to be sorted out. They’ve lost control of it recently. I’ve said it before and what happened here is the natural conclusion of this general loss of control.

“It’s just it’s manifested in a completely unexpected way, rather than an on-track incident.

“My hunch is it won’t go to the court of appeal. The really interesting question is how the FIA facilitates that and what Mercedes will expect.”

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