FIA must look at itself after blaming fans for Abu Dhabi debacle – MPH


With the FIA set to conduct an analysis of the Abu Dhabi debacle, Mark Hughes asks what will be really learnt

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: FIA Race Director Michael Masi walks in the Paddock before the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

FIA has promised a "detailed analysis" of proceedings in Abu Dhabi, but will it really change?

Clive Rose/Getty Images

As the dust settles from the aftermath of the appalling way the outcome of the world championship was decided in Abu Dhabi and the withdrawal of Mercedes’ appeal of the result, what will be learnt?

The FIA has announced it is conducting a ‘”detailed analysis and clarification exercise”. Its statement the day after the race said in part, “The FIA’s primary responsibility at any event is to ensure the safety of everyone involved and the integrity of the sport.

“The circumstances surrounding the use of the Safety Car following the incident of driver Nicholas Latifi, and the related communications between the FIA Race Direction team and the Formula 1 teams, have notably generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans, an argument that is currently tarnishing the image of the Championship and the due celebration of the first Drivers’ World Championship title won by Max Verstappen and the eighth consecutive Constructors’ World Championship title won by Mercedes.”

Safety car leads Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP

The safety car call ultimately deposed Hamilton from his championship-winning position

Lars Baron/Getty Images

So it’s the arguments and misunderstandings (of teams, drivers and fans) which is tarnishing the image? No, there would be no arguments to have or misunderstandings to make if the correct procedures had been followed by the race director. As someone has quite eloquently pointed out on social media, you can argue whether the referee has correctly called a yellow card or not, but the referee cannot invent a purple card.

In the circumstances he regularly faces of being bombarded in real team by intense lobbying from the teams which have access to all sorts of instant ‘what if’ computer-generated data, Michael Masi cannot be expected to get every single call right under intense time pressure. But up until Abu Dhabi it was about whether he was making the right calls within the regulations, not whether he was making up an entirely unprecedented interpretation of the regulations in his haste to meet a brief he has that whenever possible the races shouldn’t end under a safety car. So the regulations were rendered secondary to a general brief. That this should occur in the championship finale and furthermore change the outcome of that finale was doubly unfortunate. Forget who won or lost.

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The FIA statement suggesting the blame for the tarnishing of the reputation lies with teams, drivers and fans for arguing gives the sense that it wishes to control the narrative rather than tackle the incorrect application of the regulations by the FIA race director. Rather than saying, ‘yes we got it wrong’ it appears to be saying, ‘maybe we did, maybe we didn’t, but it’s not up to you pesky teams, drivers and fans to be questioning us.’ Which is not a good look.

Similarly, that attitude seems inherent in the protest and appeal procedures. The protest was thrown out on the grounds that another regulation took precedence over the relevant one, which was just a convenient post-hoc way of not changing the result. The regulation saying that the race director can direct the use of the safety car comes immediately after the regulation stating the procedure of the restarting of the race behind the safety car, clearly with the implicit assumption that the first regulation had been met – i.e. it was a ‘what happens next’ regulation with nothing to indicate this ‘this regulation takes precedence over the preceding one’. That was just used as a convenience after the fact.

“There definitely seems to be a sense of ‘we are right because we are the authority’ creeping in”

Mercedes dropped its appeal because it judged that the FIA would not rule against itself and that it did not have the statutory power to change the outcome anyway. Not that changing the outcome would have a good thing; it would have been disastrous. Once Masi made the choice he did, it was done and to go back and change it would be even worse. The problem was the call itself.

In this ‘detailed analysis and clarification exercise’ the FIA needs to look not just at procedures and communications, but at itself. It’s a sporting authority and generally a good one but there definitely seems to be a sense of ‘we are right because we are the authority’ creeping in. That was there in the race director’s decision and seems to be there in the wording of the FIA’s response to the outrage and disappointment that decision triggered.