FIA say they aware of radio messages between a Red Bull chief and race director Michael Masi that have raised fresh questions over the outcome of the Abu Dhabi title decider, according to reports.
Max Verstappen, 24, snatched the Formula One world championship from rival Lewis Hamilton, 37, in dramatic fashion two months ago, with supporters calling into question the decision-making of Masi in the final knockings of the race.
Having led from the start of the race, a safety car was deployed with five laps remaining following a collision involving Nicholas Latifi.
Hamilton looked set to coast to victory with five lapped cars separating himself and Red Bull’s Verstappen.
However, Masi ordered the lapped cars to unlap themselves, resulting in Verstappen closing the gap on his British rival. With the Dutchman on a fresher set of tyres, he was able to pass Hamilton on the final lap to win the championship.
Masi has been accused of giving into pressure applied by Red Bull chief Christian Horner and sporting director Jonathan Wheatley, resulting in his decision not to follow the FIA rules and allow the cars to pass.
And video footage of a conversation between Masi and sporting director Wheatley appears to provide further evidence of the race director reacting to Red Bull’s demands.
In the radio messages, Masi is heard receiving advice from Wheatley on how to deal with the lapped cars with Red Bull desperate for a final-lap shootout.
Masi takes on the message from Wheatley, then decides to instruct the five lapped cars to unlap themselves. When questioned by Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, Masi is heard repeating the same language used by Wheatley in the previous message.
Wheatley first says: ‘Those lapped cars; you don’t need to let them go right the way around and catch up with the back of the pack. You only need to let them go, and then we’ve got a motor race on our hands.’
‘Understood,’ the Australian responds before making his decision. When Wolff demands a reason for that controversial call, Masi replies: ‘Toto, it’s called a motor race, OK?’
The video has gained traction on social media but is not a new revelation. It was initially released by Formula One four days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but only now has it caused a whirlwind online, with the hashtag ‘#F1xed’ trending as a result.
The BBC reports that the FIA have access to all radio communication from Abu Dhabi so are aware of the footage. They are due to release the findings of their inquiry into the controversial ending to the season finale at a meeting of the F1 Commission next Monday.
The inquiry was launched to determine how the mistakes in the desert were made, with BBC also reporting that figures within the FIA acknowledge that Masi failed to follow the rules correctly, which consequently had an effect on the title outcome.
The same outlet claims that there is a growing belief that Masi’s position as race director is untenable following his judgment calls in Abu Dhabi.
The race director is afforded the discretion to decide whether lapped cars are allowed through to unlap themselves, but the rules set out that ‘any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car’.
Yet Masi only ordered for the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves and opted to leave any cars between the rest of the top six.
Moreover, FIA rules explain that once lapped cars pass, racing will start ‘at the end of the following lap’. Had the rules been followed, Verstappen would have been unable to overtake Hamilton because the race would have not been restarted due to it being the final lap.
However, Masi restarted the race immediately, which saw the Dutchman pass Hamilton with ease to win the title.
There was some uncertainty surrounding Hamilton’s future following what many felt an unjust ending to the 2021 season. The 37-year-old undertook an eight-week social media silence after the Abu Dhabi race but recently resurfaced on social media.
He shared an image of himself at the Grand Canyon with the caption ‘I’m back’ on Instagram, and was seen visiting the Mercedes factory at Brackley, Northamptonshire, with preparations for the new season well under way.