The hints of change and lingering questions in the FIA’s Abu Dhabi update

  • F1 News
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It was the kind of information that fans had been eagerly waiting for, and while it did not offer any concrete answers, it at least outlined the state of play and the possible timeline for any decisions and, more importantly, action.

Newly-appointed FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem spoke earlier this month of the need to be “proactive, not reactive” when it came to addressing the regulations, and made clear resolving the fallout from Abu Dhabi was high on his agenda. He also revealed that he was yet to hear back from Lewis Hamilton, who has not spoken publicly since his brief interview in parc ferme moments after his title defeat to Max Verstappen as he considers his future.

But the big challenge for the FIA through this investigation is to rebuild trust among the drivers, teams and fans who were left dismayed by what they saw in Abu Dhabi, as well as the handling of other incidents through the 2021 season.

The statement on Thursday confirmed the investigation is underway, and that it would be involving the teams and drivers in its consultations to cover “various issues, including this one”.

The first outlined date from the FIA was 19 January, when the Sporting Advisory Committee – which discusses and proposes regulatory changes – will dedicate part of its agenda to discussing “the use of the safety car”, serving as the first sign of where change may lay.

The calling in of the safety car by race director Michael Masi was at the heart of Mercedes’ protest on the Sunday night in Abu Dhabi. The team argued that he did not apply Article 48.12 of the regulations twice, firstly by only letting five cars unlap themselves, and secondly by not resuming the race “at the end of the following lap” once cars had unlapped themselves.

Although the stewards did accept Masi may not have “applied fully” that regulation, the protest was thrown out on the basis it was overridden by Article 48.13 – that it was mandatory to restart the race on the next lap once the ‘safety car in this lap’ message had been displayed – and the now-infamous Article 15.3, which gives the race director “overriding authority” over the use of the safety car.

Quite clearly, the rules do need to be cleared up to ensure there is no possible repeat of what happened in Abu Dhabi, and that there is clarity in the regulations as to how the rules are applied

The fact the safety car has been cited as an area of focus for the Sporting Advisory Committee is encouraging. Quite clearly, the rules do need to be cleared up to ensure there is no possible repeat of what happened in Abu Dhabi, and that there is clarity in the regulations as to how the rules are applied.

Teams and drivers are set to play an important, active role in this process, which is another positive sign. There were concerns in the wake of the investigation being announced that a possible lack of outside involvement could stunt meaningful change if the FIA was, in effect, marking its own homework. But by making it an open forum with the drivers and teams, their grievances – not just relating to Abu Dhabi – can be heard.

This naturally happens at every race weekend through the drivers’ briefing, but this will give a chance for talks to be more focused on the issues that need resolving. The Turn 4 incident between Verstappen and Hamilton in Brazil led to lengthy debate over what was and was not…

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