The celebrations will continue long into the night for Red Bull and Max Verstappen – but Mercedes have already started poring over the rule books after the jaw-dropping controversy during, and before, the last lap shootout in Abu Dhabi.
In fact, Mercedes – who won the constructors’ championship but were left defeated in the drivers’ standings after Lewis Hamilton was overtaken by his fierce rival – lodged an appeal against the official results immediately after the race.
At the time of writing, team principal Toto Wolff is yet to comment on the drama. His post-race press conference was delayed, and the backlash will rumble on for quite some time.
So, amid all the chaos at the Yas Marina Circuit, Sportsmail has taken a look at how the situation unfolded to explain just how the eyebrow-raising decisions were made.
Max Verstappen won the world championship after beating Lewis Hamilton in late drama
Hamilton led for most of the race in Abu Dhabi, but was then overtaken on the very last lap
NICHOLAS LATIFI’S CRASH SPARKS DRAMA
With just a handful of laps to go, Hamilton was in the driving seat and looked on course to take home a record-breaking eighth title. However, it all came crashing down around him after Nicholas Latifi careered his Williams into the barriers.
That meant that a safety car was brought out on lap 53, and Red Bull seized the initiative by bring Verstappen in for fresher tyres. Mercedes, in a move they will now come to regret, opted against also putting new rubber on Hamilton’s car.
So, for the final, pulsating shootout to decide where the title would be heading, it was Verstappen who held the advantage in his bid to chase down Hamilton. His tyres allowed him to get off to a flying start, and soon after, he glided beyond his rival.
Nicholas Latifi crashed his car into the barriers on lap 53, when Hamilton was in cruise control
Hamilton broke away from Verstappen at lights out, and led for almost the entirety of the race
MICHAEL MASI CHANGES HIS MIND
Michael Masi, the race director, may well find himself in very hot water this evening. Wolff, understandably incensed, called Masi to urge him to reconsider, but was met with a deadpan reply about the sport being ‘motor racing’, which provided no clarity.
Mercedes were, and remain, incensed, after the decision-makers dramatically changed their minds over the span of just a couple of minutes.
Initially, Masi declared that lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen would not be allowed to un-lap themselves, as is normal practice in Formula One.
Un-lapping is the process of driving fast to overtake a car which is one whole lap ahead and has just passed by. If a driver is able to pass them, they will have un-lapped themselves – which is exactly what was expected in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull complained about Masi’s choice, though, and in a shocking twist, the race director changed his mind.
There were five lapped cars between the two contenders in the queue behind the Safety Car, and these were told by Race Control to join the back of the queue on the penultimate lap.
As a result, Hamilton and Verstappen were placed side-by-side for the restart, and it was the latter and his fresher tyres who triumphed against all the odds.
Michael Masi changed his mind over allowing lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the safety car ahead of the restart
Verstappen’s fresher tyres allowed him to dive down beyond Hamilton and then win the title
WHAT HAVE MERCEDES COMPLAINED ABOUT?
According to Mercedes, the actions of Masi appear to have gone against the sporting regulations. In instructing the five cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the safety car, a seismic debate has been sparked – and it will not go away.
In the rulebook, Article 48.8 says ‘no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the Line (see Article 5.3) for the first time after the safety car has returned to the pits.’
There is also Article 48.12, which says that ‘any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.’
Regarding the first point, Verstappen looked to pull up alongside Hamilton approaching Turn 12 on lap 57, ahead of the race restarting on lap 58 – the final one.
And for the second argument made by Mercedes, Race Control told Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel to pass the safety car ahead of the drama-filled restart.
However, Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher were not given the same instruction.
Article 48.12 also says: ‘Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.’
Verstappen came into the race on pole, but his sluggish start allowed Hamilton to take the lead
Post-race, a gracious Hamilton congratulated Verstappen, but Mercedes lodged two appeals
WHAT WERE THE STEWARDS’ VERDICTS?
Despite Mercedes’ protests, the race stewards for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix threw out both of their appeals.
Regarding Verstappen overtaking Hamilton under the safety car, the Stewards determine that although Verstappen did at one stage, for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of Hamilton, at a time when both cars where accelerating and braking, he moved back behind the Brit, and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended (i.e. at the line).
Regarding the deployment of the safety car, the stewards ruled that Article 15.3 allows the race director to control the use of the safety car.
They also stated that Article 48.12 was not applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to pits at end of following lap, 48.13 overrides it. Once message ‘safety car in this lap is’ displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw safety car at the end of the lap
Mercedes’ requested that stewards to change the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap but this is a step that the stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate.
Max Verstappen celebrates with his team in the pitlane after being crowned world champion
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT?
Mercedes have already decided to launch an appeal, as is their right.
Competitors are reminded that they have the right to appeal certain decisions of the stewards, in accordance with Article 15 of the FIA International Sporting Code and Chapter 4 of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules.
The team have now confirmed their decision to appeal, with a statement reading: ‘We have lodged our intention to appeal Document 58 / the decision of the stewards to dismiss the team’s protest.’
Ultimately, if any punishments are meted out, they will single-handedly change the complexion of the title fight – and potentially strip Verstappen of the trophy.
The fact that the tussle came down to the final race of the season means that if there are any alterations to the race result, Hamilton may take home an eighth award.
It will be nothing short of embarrassing for the sport is the outcome is overturned.
But it may also be more damaging for them to leave the result to stand, with rules seemingly conjured up on the last lap of the season to create a soap opera.
The confusion is sure to rumble on for a long time yet and could even end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) given the highly controversial nature of any ruling.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has not yet commented on the drama, but is believed to be angry
Verstappen may have also moved ahead of Hamilton behind the safety car in another twist
WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN?
‘No, Mikey! That was so not right!’
Those were the words bellowed down the radio by Wolff at Masi after the safety car was taken away, a decision which left Hamilton hopelessly exposed out in front.
Wolff has not voiced his opinions yet, undoubtedly cooling off first and exploring Mercedes’ legal options. It is understood they have even brought in a barrister.
Speaking after the race, Horner admitted that Verstappen benefited from some good fortune with the safety car, but insisted Masi made the right call.
‘Of course he (Toto) will obviously do that (disagree). But it’s unheard of to leave the cars unlapped,’ Horner told Sky Sports.
‘You could see they wanted to get the race going again but they don’t need to catch up the back of the paddock so they made absolutely the right call.
‘(They were) Difficult circumstances for the stewards, we’re all putting pressure on them, but they called it right.’
Verstappen was also questioned on the drama in his press conference, and he said: ‘Everything was clear so why would you run another lap behind the safety car?’
When told about the Mercedes protest, he added: ‘Not much really to say about that. I think it also sums up a little bit the season.’
Williams’ George Russell, who will be Hamilton’s team-mate next season, tweeted: ‘THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!!!!
‘Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we’ve just seen.’
For now, Red Bull (pictured: team principal Christian Horner, left) will continue to celebrate
It is not clear if the race result will change, with Mercedes having spoken to the stewards
Originally posted 2021-12-12 22:47:28.