Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali says the FIA’s process of reviewing how last year’s championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was handled is vital to the sport’s credibility.
The title changed hands on the final lap of the race after a controversial restart arranged by FIA F1 race director Michael Masi. His decision to break with past practice by only allowing a portion of the field to un-lap themselves, and bring the Safety Car in a lap earlier than permitted by the rules, provoked protests from Mercedes, after Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton to win the race and the title.
Despite furious criticism from many fans over how the race was handled, Domenicali is confident they still trust the sport to provide fair competition, pointing out how well ticket sales for the upcoming season have gone.
“I think that, to be honest, the trust is already there,” he told Sky. “We had in the last week a meeting with all the promoters and all the broadcasters and all the partners. Almost all the places we are going are sold out. That means the Formula 1 has not that problem. It means the trust is there.”
Following the race Hamilton did not speak publicly for months. In one of his last comments on the radio at on the final lap he claimed the race had been “manipulated”. But Domenicali insisted he does not believe the it was fixed.
“Sport is a part of the challenge and you may have situations that are positive or negative or create controversy,” he said. “I have not for a single second in my mind to think that something [was] built on purpose.
“As a sportsman, if I thought that was the case, I would not be there. And I can guarantee that from Formula 1’s perspective, this is not the case.”
However he believes the FIA’s process of investigation is important to ensure the sport remains credible.
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“In the next days the FIA will formally discuss that at the World Motor Sport Council. I think that what we need to avoid is a personal discussion.
“We are all human beings. You may say that you are performing well as a driver, as a team, as a referee, but this is not relevant to the credibility of the sport if the sport will take all the lessons in order to improve that. The credibility is passing through this kind of action. And this is what we are expecting from the FIA to take on board in the preparation of the next year.”
The FIA has already made several changes in response to the controversy. Earlier this week it changed a line in the sporting regulations ensuring that all cars are allowed to unlap themselves before restarts.
Previously it confirmed a new structure for F1’s officiating which now include a pair of race directors, an advisor and a dedicated support facility. The FIA also confirmed Masi will not continue in the role of race director. Domenicali declined to say whether he agreed with that change, but pointed out Masi had been under considerable pressure in the role.
“I want to see the facts on making sure that the FIA, as a regulator of the sport, will be able to start this weekend in the best way that they can in terms of giving to the race director and all the people involved in the decision-making process, the stewards and so on, the right tools to do the best job that they can,” he said.
Domenicali said he hopes the FIA’s report on the controversy allows the sport to move on from the controversial conclusion to last season.
“I would say this is part of the FIA,” he said. “I will attend the World Council next Saturday, and we will see.
“That is the aim to have a step forward to move forward from Abu Dhabi. We are already in Bahrain so there’s no need to talk with the different approach rather than to say what we learn as regulator from that last race.”
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