March 3, 2024

Mercedes protests rejected by Formula 1 stewards as title goes to Max Verstappen

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Formula 1 officials rejected two protests by Mercedes against the result of the controversial title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with the team set to appeal against one of those decisions.

Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for the victory that won him the title after a late safety car.

Mercedes argued race director Michael Masi did not apply the rules correctly.

The team have lodged an intention to appeal against the decision relating to restarting the race for the final lap.

Officials said other rules gave Masi the power to act as he did.

Mercedes’ second appeal was over Red Bull’s Verstappen nosing ahead of Hamilton a number of times on the lap before the restart. They are not intending to appeal against that matter.

What was the row about?

The main controversy arose over the way Masi handled the decision to restart the race at the start of the final lap.

Whoever won the race would win the title and Hamilton had dominated throughout after passing Verstappen at the start and being allowed to keep the lead despite cutting the chicane when Verstappen tried to pass him back, on the grounds Hamilton had been forced off the track.

When Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed with five laps to go, the safety car was deployed and Verstappen pitted for new tyres. Hamilton could not because he would have lost the lead.

It put Verstappen right behind Hamilton on much fresher, grippier tyres, and the Dutchman passed Hamilton on the final lap.

Why was it controversial?

At restarts after safety-car periods, lapped cars are normally allowed to pass the leaders and un-lap themselves so they do not interfere with the race.

Masi allowed the drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen to pass them, giving Verstappen a clear run at his rival. But did not do the same to the cars between Verstappen and third-placed Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.

Article 48.12 of the sporting regulations says: “If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message ‘lapped cars may now overtake’ has been sent to all competitors via the official messaging system, any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.”

At the same time, article 48.12 of the sporting regulations says that “once the last lapped car has passed the leader, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap”. In this case, the race was started at the end of the same lap.

Had both rules been applied in this way, Mercedes argued, Hamilton would have won the race.

The stewards ruled that a separate rule gave Masi the power to control the safety car, which “includes its deployment and withdrawal”.

They added: “Although article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to the pits at the end of the following lap, article 48.13 overrides that and once the message ‘safety car in this lap’ has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap.

They added that Mercedes’ request to remedy the matter by amending the result by taking the positions at the end of the penultimate lap “is a step that the stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate”.

What about overtaking under caution?

On the matter of Verstappen passing Hamilton before the race had re-started, the stewards said: “Although [Verstappen] did at one stage, for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of [Hamilton], at a time when both cars where accelerating and braking, it moved back behind and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended [ie, at the line].”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “We never wanted to end up in front of the stewards. We don’t go racing with barristers. It was a shame it ended up there but the stewards made the right call.

“We have talked about ‘let them race’. [The late Mercedes non-executive chairman] Niki Lauda was the guy who pushed hard for it and we’ve always talked about not finishing races under safety cars. The race director in difficult circumstances made absolutely the right call.”

He said Mercedes’ protest “felt a little bit desperate”.


By Andrew Benson

Chief F1 writer at Yas Marina


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