On December 12th 2021, Formula One saw one of the biggest controversies to hit the sport in a long time. That controversy saw Dutchman Max Verstappen crowned World Champion for the first time.
Lewis Hamilton had been leading for almost the entire race on that fateful Sunday, before Nicholas Latifi’s crash saw a safety car brought out. What happened next seems like a blur. When the safety car left the track, Max Verstappen overtook Hamilton and took a record-breaking eighth world title away from Lewis Hamilton in the blink of an eye.
Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal asked Micheal Masi (F1 race director) if the cars behind Max and Lewis could unlap themselves. When Masi granted that decision, little did he know that it would lead to one of the biggest controversies in the sport. What ensued was a never-ending discussion of whether that was right. Over the radio Masi told Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team director, that it was just racing.
Now, a month later, the FIA has opened an inquiry into the events at Yas Marina. The FIA has admitted that the events last month ‘tarnish the image of Formula One.’ Teams and drivers have become disillusioned with the governance of F1. Hamilton is one of the prime examples, having said that he will not make a decision about returning for the 2022 season until the inquiry has been concluded.
And he is not the only one to express his disillusionment over the decision, Other drivers have expressed their discontent with the decision made in December. Many of those have said in interviews that they were confused by the decision and did not understand it.
Potential rule changes
Should the rules of Formula One be changed? It can be argued that Masi just wanted to give the fans and TV audience a show. It would have been a shame to end such an exciting 2021 season behind the safety car. For that I agree, however, it can’t be underestimated that maybe the rules need clarification.
After some digging online, I found a good way to paraphrase the rules that Masi applied in that case:
‘If a message is sent that lapped cars may overtake, any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car. Once the last lapped car has passed the leader, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap (unless it is unsafe to do so).’
The rules are clear. And Masi applied them as he should. The rules don’t need to be changed. Formula One is a sport complicated enough without having the rules changed every time an incident happens. There is no doubt that the controversy should not be forgotten and should be investigated, but should the rules of Formula One change? Not yet.
In my opinion Masi applied the rules and gave the fans an unforgettable ending to the season. Many are not of that opinion though, with some saying that it will be the last Formula One race they ever watch.
For now, we can’t do much more than observe and wait for the result of the inquiry, which should be released before the start of the 2022 season. It would be wise to revisit the argument to change the rules once the inquiry is out.