So much for Abu Dhabi “done and dusted” RaceFans
As the stunning new 2022 Formula 1 cars first entered the Circuit de Catalunya together for the first time two weeks ago, it looked like the sport would finally have ended last year’s controversial conclusion.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff faced the media together at an FIA lunchtime press conference. Both have indicated they are ready to draw a line under the acrimony of Abu Dhabi, where the championship result tipped over race director Michael Masi’s shock decision to stage a restart in a way that contravened to the regulations and broke with past practices.
“I think ’21 has been well documented, maybe we have a difference of opinion on Abu Dhabi, but it’s now done and dusted off and all the focus is now on 2022,” Horner said, who was even willing to accept that the drama had gotten out of hand over the course of 2021.
“What you saw last year was fantastic competition from the first race to the last. I think a key part of the renewed popularity of Formula 1 has been that competition. So we certainly hope there is will have an equally exciting year, ideally a little less exciting at times, but an exciting season ahead.
Wolff also said he was eager to put the past behind them. “It got fierce and brutal at times, but there’s a lot at stake. It’s the Formula 1 world championship and there’s the fight on the track and the fight off the track for the advantages, so that’s fine.
“But I agree with Christian. We have to move forward. Abu Dhabi has been talked about so much that it has come to a point where it is really damaging for all of us Formula 1 stakeholders and we have closed the chapter and moved on.”
The following day, Max Verstappen strongly criticized the FIA’s decision to offer Masi a different role within the organization – or, as Verstappen called it, to “fire” him.
With that, Verstappen’s first comments since the sweeping changes the FIA announced to racing control after Abu Dhabi, it looked like the key players had said their final say on the matter. A day earlier, Hamilton had closed further questions about Abu Dhabi. “I feel like I covered just about everything I needed and wanted to cover last week,” he pointed out, “I really don’t have anything more to add.”
Announcement | Become a RaceFans supporter and
But it turned out the deal wasn’t quite “done and dusted” for Horner. He spoke to the BBC yesterday and was pressed on whether Masi’s crucial decision to only allow part of the run-in cars to run and bring the safety car one lap earlier had been a breach of the regulations, as claimed by Mercedes.
“Michael Masi actually didn’t break the rules, he enforced them in a way that had never been done before,” Horner insisted. The FIA’s enthusiasm that its race director chose the final lap of a championship-defining race to enforce its rules in this completely new way can be gauged by the fact that Masi is no longer in position and that many innovations are introduced to ensure the future. race directors approach the rules less creatively.
Indeed, Horner’s words come remarkably close to echoing Wolff’s view that a “freestyle [approach to] interpretation of regulations” had become the norm under Masi.
Horner substantiated his view by saying that “leaving two lapped cars at the back of the field was the only deviation from what was normal practice otherwise.” There was actually a third car that was not allowed to follow the others to join the lead lap, and Masi also broke the rules regarding when to restart, bringing in the safety car with one lap ahead.
This detail is important because the tactical choices made by both teams were informed by their understanding of how the rules are applied. This includes, as Masi himself has previously acknowledged, the requirement to allow all cars to unroll, not just some of them.
For Horner, Masi’s exit is not the consequence of a bad application of the rules, but because “a lot of pressure was exerted by one of our competitors on the FIA”. He made up the rhetoric above in another interview.
Red Bull’s situation is clear: they cannot admit any wrongdoing on Masi’s part, as that would be tantamount to admitting Verstappen’s title is tainted. Defending Masi and defending Verstappen are one and the same thing.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether the FIA will reveal anything about its investigation into the matter, as Hamilton has also requested of them. All this tends to say that we have not yet heard the last word on Abu Dhabi.
Announcement | Become a RaceFans supporter and
2022 F1 season
Browse all articles from the F1 2022 season