F1’s Abu Dhabi world title chaos: Everything we know about ‘Hand of God’ moment

While Hamilton reacted graciously in congratulating Verstappen immediately after the race, his bosses at Mercedes quickly moved to challenge the race via two appeals to stewards. Given Verstappen would have won the title if the pair had crashed out due to his nine wins compared with Hamilton’s eight, the Brackley team had flown out their lawyers in anticipation of a potential post-race challenge involving the drivers.

As it turned out, they were immediately put to work to help outline why they believed Verstappen broke the regulations by overtaking Hamilton under the Safety Car. Footage showed Verstappen pulling alongside Hamilton as he slowed to bunch up the pack, and he appeared to momentarily move ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes as they came out of Turn 12. Mercedes believe that this broke Regulation 48.8 of the sporting regulations, but it was swiftly rejected by the FIA ​​given he was in position when the lights turned green.

What appeared more likely to stick was Mercedes’ claim that the FIA ​​broke the regulations by not enforcing the Safety Car rules in an appropriate manner, with racing supposed to resume the lap after backmarkers are allowed to overtake, according to Regulation 48.12 of the sporting regulations .

However, both Red Bull and Masi then gave evidence, with the race director saying that the purpose of Article 48.12 is to remove lapped cars that can interfere in the leaders’ racing.

The stewards acknowledged that Article 48.12 may not have been fully applied, but accepted a claim from Red Bull that a subsequent clause, Article 15.3, gives the race director “overriding authority” over “the use of the Safety Car”. For Verstappen, the party could go long into the night.

What’s at stake now

A rift wider than ever

The FIA, which will present its “detailed analysis” to the F1 Commission at the governing body’s London headquarters on Monday, must somehow find a unifying solution – and that will start with acknowledgment of failures in Abu Dhabi.

Mercedes dropped an appeal to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal four days after the race, privately claiming the only likely verdict from the governing body was one backing their own race director.

However, the positions of both teams remain exactly where they were in the immediate aftermath of Dec 12. Wolff has stood by his position that Masi adopted “a freestyle reading of the rules”, which left Hamilton like “a sitting duck”, while Red Bull’s Horner has fiercely maintained Mercedes made a “tactical error” by failing to pit stop.

Under new president Mohamed Ben Sulayem, the FIA’s final deadline for healing a sport on the brink of war will be when “final decisions” are announced at the World Motor Sport Council in Bahrain on March 18.

The outcome of the investigation – which formally began in early January – is understood to be crucial to how much “disillusioned” Hamilton is now willing to commit long-term to the sport.

Mercedes have made their feelings clear by snubbing the governing body’s Prize Giving Gala, while Hamilton, who picked up his knighthood from Buckingham Palace with his mother, has remained largely tight-lipped throughout. There was hope last week, however, that he has not given up on the sport completely. “I’ve been gone,” I tweeted. “Now I’m back!”

With the ball firmly in the FIA’s court, Mercedes have also maintained a dignified silence since Christmas as they do not want to be seen to be using the media to agitate. Peter Bayer, the FIA’s secretary general of motor sport, has interviewed all those involved in recent weeks. A moral victory of sorts appears to be what embittered bosses at Mercedes, and indeed Hamilton, crave. There is no hope of the result being overturned, but a clear admission that errors were made appears to be the FIA’s only route to start healing what could remain a devastating rift going into the new season.

Likely solutions in the FIA ​​report

Decisions will be made on Masi’s future, a perceived lack of support for him, consistency over application of the rules, and, potentially, the cutting of live radio lines between the race director and team principals.

Speculation has been rife that Mercedes agreed a quid pro quo with the FIA ​​in the aftermath of Abu Dhabi, agreeing to drop their appeal so long as Masi and FIA head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis were forced out.

Wolff himself implied Masi’s departure was inevitable when he told the media in his final press conference before Christmas that it was “not only a decision to change the race director”.

Though the FIA ​​has denied a decision has already been taken to replace Masi, Bayer reportedly recently hinted that the race director’s role may change as part of a restructuring of F1 officiating.

However, while few gave Masi a fighting chance of calling the shots in Bahrain on March 20 until recent weeks, there is a growing feeling that a compromise is still possible where he remains in post, but with more support.

If he is forced out, the experienced Portuguese, Eduardo Freitas, is one name mentioned to replace Masi. He has more than 20 years experience in race control and currently oversees the World Endurance Championship.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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