The FIA have finally shared the results of their investigation into last year's 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after the governing body committed to an in-depth fact-finding mission as to how the final laps played out. The race, which was the 2021 title decider between Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, ended in controversial circumstances as then-FIA Race Director Michael Masi made the call to withdraw a late Safety Car and resume the race with a single lap remaining – seemingly against the wording of the Sporting Regulations. With a clause in the regulations granting the Race Director overriding authority over the control of the Safety Car, the controversial decision from Masi met with huge outcry as Verstappen pounced to overtake Hamilton on the final lap. Verstappen had taken advantage of the Safety Car to pit for a fresh set of tyres, handing him a huge tactical advantage over Hamilton if the race resumed before the chequered flag – which it ultimately did.
What does the report reveal?
The highly detailed report has broken down the key elements of the investigation, covering the role of the Race Director, the nature of the radio communications between the Race Director and the team bosses of Red Bull and Mercedes, the FIA race governance structure, as well as the procedure for cars unlapping themselves under the Safety Car. A key finding was that there were simply too many distractions placed upon Masi at a crucial point of the race. "The consensus of those involved in the detailed analysis and clarification exercise was that the respective communications to the Race Director by the Red Bull Racing and Mercedes Team Principals during the final laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP had a negative impact on the smooth running of the final laps, because they were distracting when the Race Director needed to focus on making difficult and time‐pressured decisions," read the report, referring to Christian Horner and Toto Wolff. "It was found that these communications were neither necessary nor helpful to the smooth running of the race. Rather, the consensus was that they add pressure to the Race Director at a critical time and might seek to influence the decisions made by the Race Director."
Safety Car unlapping rules get a tweak
The unlapping of cars under the Safety Car facet of the investigation has resulted in the discovery of seemingly confusing wording in the 2021 Sporting Regulations. "It was apparent from the analysis that there could be different interpretations of Article 48.12 and/or Article 48.13," the report read. "This likely contributed to some of the confusion surrounding the Safety Car unlapping procedure. It was therefore considered that these provisions of the F1 Sporting Regulations would benefit from clarification." Meanwhile, Masi's decision to resume the race and return to green flag conditions with a lap to go was explained. "It was also considered that the decisions regarding the Safety Car at the end of the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP likely took into account previous discussions (including at meetings of the F1 SAC, the F1 Commission, and F1 Team Managers) that made clear the F1 teams' preference to end races under green flag racing conditions, rather than behind a Safety Car, when safe to do so," added the report. "The F1 drivers' consultation confirmed that finishing a race under green flag racing conditions remains desirable, but that safety should always come first. If for safety reasons it is not possible to withdraw the Safety Car, the F1 teams confirmed that they would accept finishing the race under Safety Car conditions." The FIA added that "the process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error led to the fact that not all cars were allowed to un-lap themselves". As a result, software has been introduced for the 2022 season that will automate the list of cars that can unlap themselves, and at which moment.
The race management team structure is highlighted
The entire structure of race governance was identified as a weakness in the report, particularly with regards to the lack of support available to Masi. "The support available to the race management team was identified as a key issue by participants in the analysis, in the context of ensuring that the Race Director is able to perform his/her role to the best of his/her ability," the report said. "Responsibility for supporting the race management team lies primarily with the FIA Single Seater department. "When consulted in relation to the support that they provide, department staff reported that the team was positive and worked well together. They noted the demanding nature of the Race Director role, particularly in light of the Race Director's multiple roles and responsibilities. "They also identified the need for additional support and resources in order to improve the functioning of the department and thereby provide better support to the race management team."