Formula 1 faces crunch meeting over Abu Dhabi title controversy with FIA set to propose changes

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Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Masi

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Masi

What’s happening today and why is it important?

The events of last season’s Abu Dhabi GP decider have remained under the spotlight in the two months since, and the FIA, F1’s governing body, has been hard at work with a formal inquiry and a “detailed analysis” of the race.

Today is the day the findings of those investigations are set to be presented.

The F1 Commission, which involves the teams, the FIA and F1, is meeting in London – and it is expected that the changes the FIA recommends as a result of Abu Dhabi will be discussed.

The meeting does not involve drivers, although the FIA promised an “open discussion” with all of them beforehand.

F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali says the sport will be shifting its anti-racism focus from 'gesture' to 'action' this year.

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F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali says the sport will be shifting its anti-racism focus from ‘gesture’ to ‘action’ this year.

F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali says the sport will be shifting its anti-racism focus from ‘gesture’ to ‘action’ this year.

It is also not yet clear just how much of the meeting will be made public – as any changes can not be formally approved until a World Motor Sport Council meeting on March 18 – but given the gravity of today there should be an update on what has been proposed.

What do we know about the process of the inquiry?

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who has recently replaced Jean Todt as FIA president, is understood to have taken a personal involvement in the matter, alongside other senior figures at the governing body.

The review has featured input from teams and drivers, while the inquiry team also intended to speak to those who had central roles in the final race, including race director Michael Masi, the stewards, and key team representatives.

Sky F1's Ted Kravitz explains the new rules and regulations for 2022 with most teams launching their cars this week ahead of the new Formula One season.

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz explains the new rules and regulations for 2022 with most teams launching their cars this week ahead of the new Formula One season.

Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz explains the new rules and regulations for 2022 with most teams launching their cars this week ahead of the new Formula One season.

In its initial statement on the matter, the FIA admitted that fallout from the season’s final laps and fan backlash was “tarnishing the image of the championship”, although it also suggested the events and subsequent arguments had also “generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans”.

The governing body said it wanted to have “identified meaningful feedback and conclusions be made before the beginning of the 2022 season”, which begins on March 20, two days after the World Motor Sport Council meeting.

What can we expect from the F1 Commission meeting?

One of the changes the FIA is expected to propose is a change to the race-management structure following the controversial end to the Abu Dhabi race, which saw the Safety Car decisions of race director Michael Masi have a monumental say on Lewis Hamilton losing the title to Max Verstappen.

Masi, who has been under immense scrutiny since that December 12 race, has acted alone since replacing the late Charlie Whiting at the beginning of 2019 but Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater reports: “Certain new ways of operating seem to be emerging.

“The duties currently assigned to the race director will likely be shared between two individuals.

“There may still be a race director but he or she will be better supported and perhaps rotated in that role.”

Sky F1's Martin Brundle says teams should not be able to lobby a race director while critical decisions are being made, following the controversial Abu Dhabi season finale.

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Sky F1’s Martin Brundle says teams should not be able to lobby a race director while critical decisions are being made, following the controversial Abu Dhabi season finale.

Sky F1’s Martin Brundle says teams should not be able to lobby a race director while critical decisions are being made, following the controversial Abu Dhabi season finale.

Slater also says team bosses won’t be able to petition the race director in the fashion we saw last season, clips that have made for uncomfortable viewing and listening since.

He adds: “I understand in terms of the rules there is an acceptance that what the race director does – and this is key – must be predictable.

“That’s to say the race director will follow clearly set out protocols rather than exercise personal judgement calls.

“Is that an admission Masi exercised too much leeway during those infamous final laps in the season closer?”

What will happen to Masi?

Sebastian Vettel says it is 'completely wrong' for people to pin the blame for the controversial end to the 2021 F1 season solely on race director Michael Masi.

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Sebastian Vettel says it is ‘completely wrong’ for people to pin the blame for the controversial end to the 2021 F1 season solely on race director Michael Masi.

Sebastian Vettel says it is ‘completely wrong’ for people to pin the blame for the controversial end to the 2021 F1 season solely on race director Michael Masi.

Masi has been the focus of much of the criticism from the 2021 finale, and while a decision on his future has not been made yet and will likely be discussed today it would be a surprise if he remained in his current role.

The man who is heading up the FIA inquiry, executive director of single-seaters Peter Bayer, even admitted publicly that he could be replaced while Sky F1’s Martin Brundle recently said he was in an “untenable situation”.

Sky Sports has also learned several teams expressed a lack of confidence in the Australian during the 2021 season, when there was criticism and controversy over the consistency of decisions made by Race Control even before Abu Dhabi.

Drivers have, however, defended Masi in recent days, voicing their disappointment that all of his “very good work” has been overlooked.

Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft says he does not believe Lewis Hamilton will want to end his Formula One career with the events of Abu Dhabi.

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Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft says he does not believe Lewis Hamilton will want to end his Formula One career with the events of Abu Dhabi.

Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft says he does not believe Lewis Hamilton will want to end his Formula One career with the events of Abu Dhabi.

“It’s [shameful] that it’s all focused on one man,” said Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel about the Abu Dhabi saga.

“He probably had a very, very difficult position on that day and we probably should focus on making the rules better and more clear, so it’s better for everyone.

“I don’t know what is in store for his future but I hope he sticks around because overall he has done a very good job.”

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo added: “Ultimately if Michael wants to stay, then he should stay. I don’t think one event should be the picture of everything.”

There is the possibility that Masi stays in the FIA, but in a different role and away from the Race Director spotlight.

How does this affect Hamilton?

Craig Slater says Lewis Hamilton is still waiting for the findings of the FIA's review into the season finale in Abu Dhabi before he confirms if he will race again in 2022.

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Craig Slater says Lewis Hamilton is still waiting for the findings of the FIA’s review into the season finale in Abu Dhabi before he confirms if he will race again in 2022.

Craig Slater says Lewis Hamilton is still waiting for the findings of the FIA’s review into the season finale in Abu Dhabi before he confirms if he will race again in 2022.

There have been very positive updates regarding Hamilton and him returning in F1 2022 recently.

He has returned to the public eye for the first time since Abu Dhabi with a social media post reading “I’m back”. He has returned to the Mercedes factory, completing simulator work and meeting with engineers. He is also confirmed to be taking part in the launch of Mercedes’ car this Friday, February 18.

Yet still, it is not 100% confirmed that Hamilton will be suiting up come the start of the season and still, the outcome of the FIA’s inquiry is believed to be central to resolving his F1 future.

Hamilton, like all drivers, was due to speak to the FIA before they released their findings.

What do Mercedes want?

Angered, stunned and dismayed by the sequence of events which led to Hamilton losing the world title to Verstappen on the season’s final lap, Mercedes are also very keen for F1 changes.

Their initial protest of the race results to stewards was dismissed, leading to Mercedes then lodging an intention to take the case to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal. They ultimately decided not to proceed down that route, but only after talks with the FIA and the promise from the governing body that it would initiate a full review into what happened.

McLaren launch their new car with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo targetting success for the season ahead.

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McLaren launch their new car with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo targetting success for the season ahead.

McLaren launch their new car with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo targetting success for the season ahead.

That didn’t however mean that the team’s feeling of injustice had lessened in any way.

Describing himself and Hamilton as feeling “disillusioned” about what had occurred, Wolff said that a “freestyle reading of the rules” by Masi around the use of the Safety Car had “robbed” Hamilton of the title.

Mercedes made very clear that the onus was now on the FIA to act and make tangible changes.

“We will hold them accountable for the actions because we cannot continue in a sport that is meant to be sport followed by entertainment and not the other way around,” said Wolff.

“We are held ransom by ad-hoc decisions committed in every field, be it technical or sporting, and therefore there needs to be clear measures in place before the start of the season so every driver, every team and the fans understand what is on and what is not on.”

What else is on the agenda today?

Also set to be discussed today is the potential of F1 Sprint races in 2022.

F1 and the FIA had hoped for six sprints this year, doubling the amount from last season, although the sport’s three top teams – Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari – were thought to want an increase to the cost cap to agree to that.

With F1 not willing to budge on the budget cap, a compromise of three sprints in 2022 has instead been offered. F1 needs at least eight of the 10 teams to agree on that for that change to be made to the calendar.

The F1 Commission meeting is taking place amid launch season, while the first pre-season test for the all-new cars is just over a week away.

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