Mercedes set to appeal over race director Masi's safety car call

The man in their sights is race director Michael Masi and his controversial decision to withdraw the safety car for the final lap.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton drives ahead of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at the Yas Marina Circuit during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on 12 December 2021. Picture: Giuseppe CACACE/AFP

ABU DHABI - Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes team are expected to appeal after two protests they made against Max Verstappen's title-winning victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix were rejected by stewards.

The man in their sights is race director Michael Masi and his controversial decision to withdraw the safety car for the final lap.

The appeal must be lodged within 96 hours from the moment they indicated their intention to appeal, which in this case would be 0700AEDT Friday (2000GMT Thursday).

It is likely to relate to the way in which the safety car rules were applied by Masi at the end of the race following a crash by Williams' driver Nicholas Latifi.

The involvement of the safety car set up a final lap in which Verstappen overtook long-time race leader Hamilton to win the race and the title, dashing the Briton's hopes of a record eighth world crown.

Mercedes argued that Masi did not apply the rules correctly by resuming the race for the last lap.

Stewards on Sunday countered by saying "although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully" the following article "overrides" it 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."

Masi made his opinion clear to a seething Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

"That is what we call a race," said the 42-year-old Australian, who took on the role when Charlie Whiting died at the beginning of the 2019 season.

Unlike Wolff, Hamilton - who had won the previous three races to draw level on points with his Dutch rival -accepted defeat with grace.

"Congratulations to Max and his team," he said.

"We gave it everything this last part of the season and never gave up, that's the most important thing."

Opinion varied amongst former Formula One stars with some sympathising with Mercedes and others with Masi.

"With a bit of hindsight, could the race stewards have done a better job? Yes," said David Coulthard, runner-up in the 2001 title race.

"Did something controversial take place? Yes."

'UNBELIEVABLE CLIMAX'

Four-time champion Alain Prost said he understood Mercedes' gripe.

"The protest over the managing of the safety car is an extra controversy which one does not need because the mistake was committed by the authorities," the Frenchman told Canal Plus.

Britain's 1996 world champion Damon Hill said Masi appeared to make up the rules as he went along.

"This is a new way of running the sport where the Race Director can make these ad hoc decisions," he tweeted after the race.

"Its been a bit too 'guess what I'm going to do now' I think."

The 61-year-old softened his tone in a tweet on Monday, conceding Masi's job was not one for the faint-hearted.

"Does anyone fancy changing jobs? F1 Race Director? I'd think about it at least twice. And then a couple more times," tweeted Hill.

"Masi has a massively difficult task. Not made easier by communications now being broadcast live globally. Maybe this needs a re-think?"

Hamilton's former Mercedes team-mate and 2016 champion Nico Rosberg pleaded for Masi to be shown "some compassion".

"The world is watching and he has to take a decision in 15 seconds," said Rosberg.

"It is the last lap of the final race of the championship, the most pressurised of situations.

"His decision provided us with a magnificent racing moment and an unbelievable climax.

"Michael's job was incredibly tough and he will need support through the winter, it is imperative the rules are improved and that next year we are in a better position."

Rosberg thinks one of the rules that needs changing is team principals being able to contact Masi during the race as Wolff did after Verstappen overtook Hamilton.

"Michael, this isn't right," said Wolff.

Rosberg remarked that Formula One was perhaps unique in the sporting world in this respect.

"This does not happen in football," said Rosberg.