FIA announces date for Abu Dhabi F1 safety car inquiry verdict


Drivers and fans will have to wait until the first race of this year's F1 season for the findings of a review into the controversial use of the safety car at the end of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Safety car leads Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Grand Prix Photo

The official inquiry into last year’s controversial end to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will report its findings at the first race of the new season.

Drivers are being consulted as part of the review, which was launched following the unconventional safety car procedure that enabled Max Verstappen to win the championship.

It has been suggested that Lewis Hamilton is waiting for the result of the investigation before considering whether to continue racing, after losing out in the final lap drama.

But the decision by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, to present its verdict on March 18, as free practice begins for the Bahrain Grand Prix means that the seven-time champion will have to make his mind up before.

Fans have been demanding a response since the closing moments of the Abu Dhabi race when race director Michael Masi speeded up the safety car procedure in order to allow one final lap of racing to the benefit of Max Verstappen who had been able to change onto new tyres without the risk of losing position — an option not open to Hamilton.

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Ignoring the procedure set out in the sporting regulations, Masi allowed only the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, and then restarted the race on the same lap.

The FIA’s sporting advisory committee will discuss the contrived last-lap showdown and safety car procedure next week, on January 19, before all F1 drivers will be able to have their say.

The final outcome — and any regulation changes — will be announced at a meeting of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council ahead of the season-opening Bahrain race.

“Following the decision of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on December 15, the FIA administration under the leadership of Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has started the detailed analysis of events of the last Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” an FIA statement read.

“The FIA President launched a consultation with all F1 teams on various issues, including this one.

“On January 19, an item on the agenda of the Sporting Advisory Committee will be the dedicated to the use of the safety car.

“The following stage will be shared discussion with all F1 drivers.

“The outcome of the detailed analysis will be presented to the F1 commission in February and final decisions will be announced at the World Motor Sport Council in Bahrain on March 18.

“FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has asked general secretary sport and recently-appointed single-seater director Peter Bayer for proposals to review and optimise the organisation of the FIA F1 structure for the 2022 season.

The announcement of a review has been credited for the decision by Mercedes to withdraw its appeal over the irregular procedure and race result.

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Team boss Toto Wolff said Mercedes would “hold the FIA to account” but nothing has been heard from Hamilton. It is rumoured that he is considering his future over the perceived unfairness of the result, with the inquiry and its findings seen as key to his eventual decision

Several drivers spoke out on the use of the safety car at last year’s season finale, with George Russell immediately taking to Twitter to brand it “Unacceptable” and Lando Norris highlighting the confusion.

“I’m not too sure what was said from the FIA,” he said. “At first we weren’t allowed to overtake the backmarkers.

“So if that influenced decisions, to Mercedes and to Lewis and that’s the reason they didn’t do the pitstop… But then they suddenly the FIA suddenly changed their minds and then they were allowed to let us past. That’s where I’m not so sure.”