Mercedes protests fail, Verstappen confirmed champion

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen holds the Dutch flag aloft. December 2021.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, holds the Dutch flag aloft on the Abu Dhabi podium. December 2021.

Max Verstappen has been confirmed as the 2021 World Champion after Mercedes’ two Abu Dhabi Grand Prix protests were dismissed by the FIA.

The first decision announced related to an allegation of passing Lewis Hamilton under the Safety Car, while the second concerned the procedure under which the lights turned green for one final racing lap – on which Verstappen overtook the Briton to clinch the race win and his first title.

Mercedes argued against the race classification after they felt the FIA had broken Article 48.12 of their regulations by only allowing a selection of lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car, instead of all of them as the rule stipulates.

Verstappen won a frantic race in Abu Dhabi after passing Hamilton on that dramatic final lap, with the cars that separated he and his title rival being allowed to pass the Safety Car.

That allowed one more racing lap and the Red Bull driver overtook Hamilton to take his first World Championship title – but the FIA investigated both matters after Mercedes’ protests.

The relevant part of Article 48.12 reads: “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.

“This will only apply to cars that were lapped at the time they crossed the Line at the end of the lap during which they crossed the first Safety Car line for the second time after the safety car was deployed.

“Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the Safety Car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader, the Safety Car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.”

Race Control stood their ground, however, stating the purpose of Article 48.12 is actually to remove the lapped cars that could “interfere”.

Race director Michael Masi countered by stating he had applied Article 48.13, which gives the race director the right to control the use of the Safety Car and overrides Article 48.12.

Masi added the teams had long agreed it was their desire for a race to end under green flag conditions.

Mercedes had argued Hamilton would have won the race, and the title, if Article 48.12 had been complied with, but while the stewards deemed their protest admissible it was nevertheless rejected.

The conclusions of the stewards read: “The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible.

“Having considered the various statements made by the parties the Stewards determine the following:

“That Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control the use of the safety car, which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal.

“That 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.

“That notwithstanding Mercedes’ request that the Stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the Stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate.

“Accordingly, the Protest is dismissed.”

The second protest, against Article 48.8, which relates to drivers not being allowed to pass any other car or the Safety Car itself under Safety Car conditions, was the first to be dismissed.

Verstappen was seen running alongside Hamilton before getting the final lap under way, in his eagerness to get racing again.

However, although the stewards found that protest to be “admissible” too, it also was not taken any further.

“The stewards consider that the protest is admissible,” the verdict reads.

“Having considered the various statements made by the parties, the stewards determine that although Car 33 did at one stage, for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of Car 44, at a time when both cars were accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and was not in front when the Safety Car period ended (i.e. at the line).

“Accordingly, the protest is dismissed.”

With both protests thrown out, it means Verstappen is confirmed as 2021 World Champion.