Max Verstappen’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix win and world championship victory have been upheld by the stewards after they rejected two protests from rival team Mercedes.
The team argued that because these rules were not complied with, Lewis Hamilton lost the race to Verstappen. The Red Bull driver overtook him on the final lap after the five lapped cars between them had been moved out of the way.
Red Bull attended the hearing as an interested party and made arguments against Mercedes. FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi also gave evidence.
The stewards ruled that article 48.12 cited by Mercedes “may not have been applied fully” but in their view “article 48.13 overrides that”, and so Masi’s decision to summon the Safety Car in took precedence.
“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,” they added.
The stewards dismissed Mercedes’ request to amend the result of the race to reflect the standings at the end of the penultimate lap, before Verstappen passed Hamilton, stating it would be “effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate.”
The protest was one of two Mercedes lodged in reaction to the race. The other, claiming Verstappen overtook Hamilton under the Safety Car before the restart, was rejected earlier in the evening.
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Mercedes lodged the protest after the race, arguing Verstappen had overtaken Hamilton briefly before the first Safety Car line, and thus committed an offence under the regulations.
After a hearing, the stewards have dismissed Mercedes’ protest. While accepting that Verstappen had “at one stage, for a very short period of time, move[d] slightly in front of car 44 [Hamilton], at a time when both cars where accelerating and braking, [Verstappen’s car] moved back behind car 44 and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended (i.e. at the line).”
The decision reflects Red Bull sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley’s defence of the incident that there have been “a million precedents” of cars pulling alongside, or even in front, of other cars ahead, then retuning their positions before reaching the Safety Car line marking the official restart of the race.
Mercedes may appeal the decisions and have not yet indicated whether they will do so.
Stewards verdict on Mercedes’ Safety Car restart protest
The claims of Mercedes:
Mercedes claimed that there were two breaches of the Sporting Regulations (Article 48.12) namely that which states “..any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car” and “…once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.”
Mercedes argued that had this been complied with, car 44 would have won the race.
They therefore requested the Stewards to amend the Classification under Article 11.9.3.h of the FIA International Sporting Code.
Red Bull’s arguments in defence:
Red Bull argued that
1. “Any” does not mean “all”.
2. The article 48.13 of the Sporting Regulations states that the message “Safety Car in this lap” is the signal that it will enter the pit lane at the end of that lap.
3. That therefore Article 48.13 “overrides” article 48.12.
4. That article 15.3 gives the race director “overriding authority” over “the use of the safety car”.
5. That even if all cars that had been lapped (eight in total, of which five were allowed to overtake the safety car) it would not have changed the outcome of the race.
Race Director’s Evidence
The race director stated that the purpose of article 48.12 was to remove those lapped cars that would “interfere” in the racing between the leaders and that in his view article 48.13 was the one that applied in this case.
The race director also stated that it had long been agreed by all the teams that where possible it was highly desirable for the race to end in a “green” condition (i.e. not under a Safety Car).
Conclusions of the Stewards:
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 protest deposit is not refunded.
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