The controversy from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix rages on.
The decision that led to Max Verstappen overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to win the 2021 drivers’ Championship will be questioned for a long time yet.
The man who made that decision is Michael Masi, the F1 race director.
Following Nicholas Latifi’s crash, Masi allowed some lapped cars to pass the safety car but not others in what appeared a desperate attempt to ensure the deciding race didn’t finish in an anti-climax.
With Verstappen on fresher and softer tyres, there was only going to be one winner as he passed Hamilton to take the title.
Was it fair?
Well, one thing it certainly wasn’t was consistent.
That’s because, last October, a very similar situation occurred at the Eifel Grand Prix in Germany.
Lando Norris’ McLaren suffered an issue with a few laps remaining, meaning the safety car had to be deployed. At the time, Verstappen and Hamilton were first and second respectively with a few backmarkers between them.
At that race, Masi said: “There’s a requirement in the sporting regulations to wave all the lapped cars past.”
In Germany, all lapped cars were waved through.
In Abu Dhabi, only the five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were waved through.
If all lapped cars had been waved through as Masi previously insisted was a requirement, it would have taken another lap and the race would have finished behind the safety car. Essentially, Hamilton would have been the champion.
Instead, only some cars were waved through and Daniel Ricciardo – who actually finished the race in 12th – was behind Verstappen and Hamilton on the final lap.
After the race, the McLaren driver said: “I don’t want you to ask me… I want to ask you. Tell me, tell me what happened.
“Crazy. Crazy, crazy finale. At the end it was kind of weird, they said cars can’t pass, the lapped cars, then some of them did, but then I wasn’t allowed to.
“We did a one-lap restart, I’m sitting right behind Lewis and Max, like, ‘why am I here?’ I don’t know. It was very interesting.'”
Mercedes protested against Masi and the FIA’s decision based on article 48.12 of the sporting regulations, which state: “Any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the Safety Car,’ and ‘once the last lapped car has passed the leader the Safety Car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.”
Masi’s response read: “The Race Director stated that the purpose of Article 48.12 was to remove those lapped cars that would “interfere” in the racing between the leaders and that in his view Article 48.13 [‘When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the Safety Car the message ‘SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP’ will be sent to all Competitors.’] was the one that applied in this case.”