Lewis Hamilton has hinted the FIA have only ever not followed the Safety Car procedure on one occasion – the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 2022 Italian GP finished behind the Safety Car after Daniel Ricciardo, who had been set for a points finish, lost power in his McLaren car and was forced to pull over to the side of the road.
With six laps remaining at the time of the Australian’s retirement, there was a question of how the race might end, whether that be following a red flag restart, a last-lap shootout or what actually occurred – every car driving steadily behind the leading Aston Martin Safety Car.
The FIA defended their call, stating they were following the agreed procedures – but those procedures were not followed the last time such a call needed to be made.
At the height of their season-long rivalry in 2021, Hamilton and fellow World Championship contender Max Verstappen arrived in Abu Dhabi equal on points knowing it was a winner-takes-all race for the title.
Hamilton took advantage early on and had been on for one of the more comfortable title-winning races of his career until a late Safety Car call changed the course of history.
The event became one of the most infamous moments in Formula 1 history and certainly the most controversial in recent memory. A court case was threatened then later dropped, Hamilton pondered retirement and race director Michael Masi was sacked.
The stakes at Monza were not nearly as high, with Verstappen’s march to the title less of a race and more a victory lap – but Hamilton, who finished P5 in Italy, could not help but cast everyone’s minds back to the events that occurred last year.
“It always brings memories back – that’s the rule it should be, right?” Hamilton pondered to Sky Sports F1.
“So it’s only one time in the history of the sport they haven’t done the rule.”
What an atmosphere. Thank you. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/64Klk0oXsp
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 11, 2022
Hamilton was not alone in his trip down memory lane as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said “this time, they followed the rules.”
“The race director’s call will be criticised,” Wolff also told Sky Sports F1.
“Maybe they could have done it a lap earlier or let [George Russell] through. But at least they followed the rules.
“They accepted the race ended with a Safety Car. This is how it should be.”
In contrast to his fortune in Abu Dhabi, the Safety Car call at Monza helped Hamilton keep cars on fresher tyres behind him, confirming his P5 finish.