F1 faces crunch credibility test as FIA presents Abu Dhabi GP report
Formula 1 is braced for a crunch day that could decide its credibility in the eyes of many fans as the FIA presents its report to teams on the Abu Dhabi safety car controversy.
After a detailed investigation in to the handling of the safety car restart at last year’s season finale, an F1 Commission meeting is set to be informed of its findings and the responses that will be made.
The moment comes after weeks of criticism from fans about the way F1 race director Michael Masi appeared to disrespect the rule book in the way he selected which backmarkers could unlap themselves at the end, and then got the race underway one lap before the rules specified.
Those decisions put Max Verstappen in the perfect spot to use his fresh tyre advantage to overtake Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi race and seize the win that secured him the championship.
While the FIA blamed the scale of the controversy the events caused on a ‘misunderstanding’ by fans and media, the outcry over the event has not died down since and debate around it remains intense.
Only last week, the #F1xed hashtag was trending again as a radio conversation between Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley and Masi resurfaced and went viral on social media.
The FIA promised as part of its investigation to consult with all drivers and teams to try to put in place a regulatory framework that would prevent repeat controversies in the future.
Likely changes include a restructuring of race control, with the race director being given more support to ensure that he is not overwhelmed in his duties.
It is unclear, however, if Masi will remain in his role for the 2022 season or will be replaced.
Furthermore, F1 has been clear that the open radio conversations between teams and race control need to be stopped to prevent the intense lobbying that Masi was subject to at times last season.
Michael Masi, Race Director
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
The FIA is also highly likely to make clearer processes for completing a race under the safety car, with it clear that Masi’s desire not to finish the finale under yellow triggered his call to restart the event.
Last December, the FIA promised ‘clarity’ to the participants, fans and media about the regulations, but it is unclear how much of its Abu Dhabi investigation will be made public – or indeed if anything will be communicated immediately.
Due to F1’s governance structure, any proposals put forward and agreed in the F1 Commission meeting today will still need to be ratified by the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council that meets on the eve of the season opener in Bahrain next month.
However, how the FIA responds to the events of Abu Dhabi will be a key test for new president Mohammed ben Sulayem, who could well find his tenure is defined by the response that is made.
For however much the FIA may hope that the Abu Dhabi controversy may have faded away from the fan consciousness over the winter, any weak or hidden response from the governing body would almost certainly fan the flames of fan discontent and put a cloud over the start of the 2022 season.
It will also be interesting to see if the FIA admits that mistakes were made in the way the Abu Dhabi GP was handled.
The outcome of the report will also be critical for Hamilton and his Mercedes team, who have been pretty silent on matters since the end of last year.
Hamilton has been weighing up his F1 future based on the outcome of the FIA response, while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff made clear last year that he would hold the governing body ‘accountable’ for its actions in Abu Dhabi.
The Safety Car and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
But while the focus of the FIA’s report to teams will be about the events of Abu Dhabi, it is clear there remains unease about a number of aspects of its running of the championship last year.
Even before the controversy of the final round, there had been concerns about a lack of consistency over penalty decisions, and confusion over racing rules.
McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl suggested at his team’s car launch last week that new processes need to be introduced to better allow the FIA to admit to errors and then be able to address them.
“One of the beauties of the sport, not just on the team side but also the FIA side when it comes to the execution of races, is that it is a human sport,” explained Seidl.
“So we need to accept mistakes can happen on the team side, but also the FIA side – and mistakes can happen again.
“For me it is very important that we also discuss that there is a mechanism where, if you are in the position that mistakes happen, you actually raise your hand, admit them, and have a mechanism in place in order to correct the consequences that such mistakes or controversies could have.
“That is as important as trying to avoid similar controversies in the first place.”
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