F1 race decision – Stabroek News

Formula 1 (F1) aficionados and casual enthusiasts alike are well aware that the 2021 F1 Drivers’ Championship title was decided on the last lap of the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi on December 12 under circumstances rather controversial.

After the longest season in its history, which has seen the seven-time overall and four-time defending champion Lewis Hamilton and rising star Max Verstappen faced off like two world-class boxers, for 22 Grands Prix, c t is a tragic end to what many serious F1 fans considered to be one of the best seasons of all time.

After the 18th round in Mexico, which Verstappen won hands down to take a 19-point lead, any hope Hamilton had of retaining the title seemed almost lost. However, in what could be described as a scripted comeback to Hollywood, Hamilton claimed three straight wins in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with Verstappen in second place three times, to tie the points at 369.5. It was at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the winner of everything. Liberty Media, the U.S. giant that bought a controlling stake in F1 in January 2017 for $ 8 billion, had to drool over the prospect of its potential television audience, which has grown to around 73 million viewers this year. , for the final confrontation.

After an electrifying start, Hamilton ripped his head off, only to be forced into a turn on the first lap by Verstappen as he charged for the inside line. Hamilton deviated from the track, cut the turn and regained the lead, a maneuver that the flight attendants undoubtedly found acceptable. With five laps to go in the 58-lap race, Hamilton, enjoying a comfortable 12-second lead, looked to be heading for a record eight drivers’ championship titles when the dominoes began to crumble. Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed and the safety car was pulled out, as the marshals tried to clear the debris as quickly as possible.

At this point, the team managers of the two championship rivals, Christian Horner of Red Bull and Toto Wolff of Mercedes have adopted different strategies. Horner immediately took Verstappen to the pits for a tire change, a ploy that didn’t cost him his seat.

If one listens intently to the five-minute conversation that took place between Hamilton and Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington, his race engineer, during the time the safety car was on the track, one gets the impression that Hamilton was analyzing the developing situation differently from Bono. After getting past the crash risk at Turn 14, he asked what, in hindsight, might have been the million dollar question: “Should I box?” – racing jargon to get into the pits – to which Bono replied: “Negative”. Bono, the trusted voice in Hamilton’s ear since 2013, then indicated that Verstappen had refueled for new tires and that he would lose his position on the track to Verstappen if he did the same, and to that time it was about maintaining the position on the track with just four laps remaining when Hamilton crossed the line. Bono intoned that he didn’t think the race would be restarted. One would have to assume that he believed that the debris from the crash would not be cleaned up in time and that the race would end under the auspices of the safety car, with no change in race position. A worried-looking Hamilton asked if Verstappen was right behind him, to which Bono replied that he would be after the order was settled. Hamilton expressed concern that his rival could end up in this position with new tires. Bono reiterated that he would lose his position on the track if he tried to do the same. Hamilton then bemoaned the fact that the safety car was going way too slow, an observation he repeated with desperation. Bono then said he believed the race would resume in the current order with all five cars overtaken between the two title contenders.

Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Horner asked to rule out overtaken cars, saying only one race lap was needed. F1A race director Michael Masi then approved that the five cars could split, freeing up the space between Hamilton and Verstappen. However, the other cars overtaken – the ones behind Verstappen – did not have this option, meaning they did not have enough time to complete a final lap of the race. The decision was in direct contradiction to that taken by Masi in 2020 during the Eifel Grand Prix in Germany. There he ruled that there was a requirement in the sporting regulations to signal all overtaken cars.

With that call made, Hamilton, despite his best efforts, couldn’t hold back Verstappen, who had new tires on and had five cars to pass or 11 seconds to catch up. He passed Hamilton at turn five to the finish line and the league title. As expected, Mercedes duly filed two complaints asking whether the correct protocol had been followed regarding the safety car and the level of discretion Masi had within the parameters of the regulations established by the FIA. Both were duly rejected four hours after the end of the race.

Long before the Red Bull team blew the champagne corks off, the sporting history of 2021 was raging across all available platforms. Sports experts from the internet, radio and television were dissecting every facet of Masi’s decision. The list of questions to ponder is far too long for this topic, but some relevant ones should be asked. With such a sensitive situation, why was the race not red-flagged (then all cars would have an equal chance of changing tires) when the accident happened and restarted with the cars as they were? How can a team manager have a direct line with the F1A clerk of the course during a race? Was the race director put under pressure by F1 officials who wanted a better finish for viewers? Was he intimidated by Horner? When Verstappen chose to go to the pit, knowing full well that overtaken cars might not choose to change tires, wasn’t he technically advantaged when those cars were retired? Did F1A break their own rules in this decision? Why weren’t all the broken-in cars allowed to pass? Why didn’t Carlos Sainz Jr give Verstappen the same advantage in third place and give the opportunity to challenge the leaders in the last lap? Why was the safety car pulled before the overtaken cars completed a lap? Rule 15.3 which states in part… “The clerk of the course will have supreme authority over the following matters… the control of practice, sprint qualifying and the race… and the use of the safety car…” is- is it too vague? Does this clause give too much latitude to the Clerk of the Course to apply the regulations as he sees fit?

This debate will likely rage from time immemorial as F1 fans, who have been enthralled all year round by the tooth and nail battles until the end have been left behind and with a bitter taste in their mouths with the way whose title has been decided. the track rather than on it. It’s pretty clear that the current, rather detailed F1A regulations have been misinterpreted, deliberately or not, by the clerk of the course in front of a global audience.

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