FIA race director Michael Masi is in the eye of the F1 storm raging between Red Bull Racing and the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team. Max Verstappen's title win was only confirmed almost four hours after the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after two of the Silver Arrows' protests were dismissed by the FIA race stewards.
The main point of contention was Masi's call to reverse race control's initial decision to not allow lapped cars to unlap themselves before the restart. Red Bull were furious, and after further deliberation it was decided that the five cars in between Hamilton (P1) and Verstappen (P2) will be allowed to unlap themselves before racing resumed on the final lap.
Mercedes were incensed, as it allowed Verstappen to close up to race leader Hamilton, and having stopped for a fresh set of soft compound tyres, he was always going to be much quicker than the Mercedes on 40-lap-old hard tyres. It took the Red Bull driver just a few corners to overtake Hamilton and hold on to his advantage until the chequered flag.
The Brackley-based team forgot about their record eighth Constructors' triumph and ran to the stewards' room to lodge a protest over Masi's decision. So why did Masi allow just five cars to pass before the end of the penultimate lap? After much deliberation, the stewards decided that the FIA race director had enough evidence to support his decision, which saw them uphold the race results declaring Verstappen the 2021 world champion.
"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)," Damon Hill revealed on Twitter, following the decision made by the stewards.
Moreover, the FIA race stewards pointed to the regulations regarding the Safety Car, wherein once the teams get the message about the safety car period ending, it needs to be removed at the end of the said lap, which was Lap 57. Mercedes are not happy with the explanation and have taken up their option to appeal the stewards' decision.
Fernando Alonso, a two-time champion, was shocked at race control's initial decision not allow lapped cars to overtake. The Alpine Racing driver could be heard clearly be stating on the team radio that Verstappen should be ahead of the lapped cars when the Safety Car period ends.
After the race, Alonso again congratulated Verstappen, and feels the proportion of good luck evened out in the final race, after the Dutchman had suffered with luck not being on his side during the initial part of the 2021 campaign.
"That was pure luck, we have to be honest about that," Alonso said talking about the Safety Car that helped Verstappen to the title. "On the other hand, he was unlucky so often this season, now it's more balanced. So it's a little bit of justice."