Verstappen confirmed champion as Mercedes protest dismissed

    • Joined ESPN in 2009
    • An FIA accredited F1 journalist since 2011

    • Previously worked in rugby union and British Superbikes
    • History graduate from Reading University
    • Joined ESPNF1 in February 2014

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Max Verstappen has been confirmed as Formula One world champion after the FIA stewards rejected a Mercedes protest over the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Verstappen was forced to wait until late into the night, over four hours after winning the race, after securing an incredible victory by passing title rival Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the race.

Mercedes was infuriated by how the final laps of the race played out after Nicholas Latifi’s crash triggered a safety car period. The decision to let lapped cars unlap themselves and then restart the race for a single lap allowed Verstappen to start directly behind Hamilton, a huge benefit having used the safety car to pit for fresh tyres.

The stewards deliberated for over three hours before dismissing a protest into the unlapping of cars and another Mercedes protest over Verstappen overtaking Hamilton before the race had restarted.

Mercedes is yet to confirm whether it will lodge an appeal, but it has an hour after the verdict to pursue that intention.

The reason for Merc’s protest

Hamilton’s Mercedes team were furious at how the situation unfolded after FIA race director Michael Masi made a decision to allow the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves rather than the entire field.

That decision put Verstappen on Hamilton’s tail when racing resumed for the final lap, with Verstappen passing Hamilton at Turn 5 with the help of fresher tyres he fitted at the start of the safety car period.

Under normal circumstances and according to Article 48.12 of the Sporting Regulations, all lapped cars are allowed to unlap themselves before a safety car restart so that the field is in positional order when the racing gets back underway. The rules also state that the restart should occur on the lap after the unlapping, not on the same lap as was the case in Abu Dhabi.

Race control had initially indicated that no cars would be allowed to unlap themselves — presumably so that the race could get back underway before the final lap — but then changed that decision to five cars after Red Bull team boss Christian Horner radioed Masi to raise his objection to the original decision.

When Masi gave permission for the five cars to unlap and restarted the race on the same lap, it effectively gave Verstappen a clear shot at the victory, as his fresh soft tyres gave him a significant performance advantage over Hamilton’s 43-lap-old hard tyres.

Mercedes argued that had the rules around unlapped cars been adhered to, Hamilton would have won the race and, therefore, the championship.

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

Race director Masi contended that his decision to “remove lapped cars that would ‘interfere” with racing between the leaders”.

The stewards dismissed that first protest and the request that the stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap.

Mercedes also protested Verstappen under Article 48.8 of the regulations, which says that once the safety car is returning to the pits, no one is allowed to overtake the lead car. Verstappen drew level with Hamilton in the final sector of the lap and appeared to briefly move ahead of the Mercedes before the restart got underway.

However, that protest was dismissed by the stewards.

“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 where accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended [i.e. at the line],” the stewards’ statement said.

Representatives of the Mercedes and Red Bull teams were attending a stewards hearing scheduled for 8:15 p.m. local time.

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