Formula 1 Finale Fiasco 2021

We all know what event I’m referring to. In the days after the last race of the 2021 season I had people ringing me – people who don’t usually watch Formula 1 – and asking, what’s going on with Formula 1? It was widespread knowledge that something unusual and controversial had happened in the sport of Formula 1.

A quick Summary. Last race of the year, Max and Lewis locked on equal points, with Max ahead on account of having more wins. After a year of amazing racing, with people saying it might be the best Formula 1 season ever, it comes down to the final showdown in the last race.

Going into the race I was hoping for a clean and fair outcome. I didn’t want to see the race, the season and the world championship decided by unfair racing, stupidity from the stewards or anything that didn’t fit the sentiment may the best man win.

Max on pole, soft tyres, Lewis second on medium. Somehow Lewis comes out of the first corner ahead of Max. Then a slightly controversial off-track-retain-position from Lewis. Race director Michael Masi said he was happy that Lewis had relinquished any advantage gained.

This was just one of many slightly arguable decisions from the stewards/Masi this season. Lack of consistency, etc.

Then there’s track limits. We need to mention that quickly as I’ll use it in a point later on. Throughout the season and indeed previous seasons, since Masi has been race director, track limits has been an issue of contention. The rules state clearly what defines the edge of the track and also talks clearly about how cars should remain on track and what it means to remain on track. Despite these clear unambiguous rules, at each race weekend, Masi defined the edge of the track at select corners in different ways. Sometimes the red and white curb (beyond the white line), sometimes the green area beyond the curb. This new “definition” would frequently change during a race weekend and sometimes even change during a session.

So here we have a race director making up new rules each weekend and changing them even during a session.

Most people didn’t think it was such a big deal because everyone had the same rules etc and drivers wanted to drive out wide in some corners, yada yada, yada. I saw it as a disrespect for the rules and although breaking these rules wasn’t of much consequence, having a race director breaking rules or changing rules as they like seems dangerous to me. Some rules, quite a lot of them, are of significance and breaking them can have meaningful consequences.

Back to the last race. Lewis and the Mercedes team executed an excellent race and due to superior pace that weekend, they were in a solid lead. Max just did not have the car on this particular weekend to really fight for the lead.

Then a driver puts it in the wall with 5 laps remaining and forces a safety car.

There’s a rule that states the under a safety car, the race director can decide to either unlap all the cars that are not on the lead lap or leave them where they are. In this race, there were some lapped car between Lewis (1st) and Max (2nd) and also between Max and Carlos Sainz (in 3rd), and others further down the field.

Masi initially said lapped cars would not be unlapped. Teams then make their strategic decisions on this kind of information. Pit for new tyres or not.

Then Masi issues another directive that only some lapped cars would be unplapped and that the safety car would be in that lap. The lapped cars between Lewis and Max got out of the way and the safety car came in on that same lap, leaving one final lap to race. Max on new softs now right behind Lewis on old medium, passed Lewis and one the race. Well done Max, World Champion for the first of many I’m sure.

At this point I should say both drivers were deserving of winning the title. But also, neither driver deserved to be robbed of a world title by incompetence from race direction.

And that’s exactly what happened. Michael Masi’s incompetence was the sole factor in deciding the Formula 1 world championship of 2021. Fucking unbelievable.

As I was watching it, I felt sick. It’s a big sport, lots of money goes into it, the drivers are incredible, perform at intense levels, risk their lives, there’s lots at stake, prestige, fame and fortune, it’s historic. And it was decided by the incompetence of one man. A man who by virtue of his position as Formula 1 Race Director, should be very competent.

Now the technicalities of the rules and how they were broken, at least to back up my claims that Masi is incompetent.

Article 48.12 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations:

If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” has been sent to all Competitors via the official messaging system, any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.

This will only apply to cars that were lapped at the time they crossed the Line at the end of the lap during which they crossed the first Safety Car line for the second time after the safety car was deployed.

Having overtaken the cars on the lead lap and the safety car these cars should then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and make every effort to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car. Whilst they are overtaking, and in order to ensure this may be carried out safely, the cars on the lead lap must always stay on the racing line unless deviating from it is unavoidable. Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.

If the clerk of the course considers track conditions are unsuitable for overtaking the message “OVERTAKING WILL NOT BE PERMITTED” will be sent to all Competitors via the official messaging system.

This means the race director can choose to get the lapped cars out of the way or not. If choosing to unlap those cars, after the final car has passed the leader, the safety car will come in at the end of the following lap.

He broke that rule. No one remembers it ever happening in that way before, so it’s not like there’s a precedent to back up the behaviour, it was just a simple fuck the rules, let’s do it a different way.

This has consequences for teams who have made their strategy calls based on the race situation and the rule book.

Before I talk about the Race Director’s defence, I’ll reproduce article 15.3 from the sporting regulations:

The clerk of the course shall work in permanent consultation with the Race Director. The Race Director shall have overriding authority in the following matters and the clerk of the course may give orders in respect of them only with his express agreement:

  • a) The control of practice, sprint qualifying session and the race, adherence to the timetable and, if he deems it necessary, the making of any proposal to the stewards to modify the timetable in accordance with the Code or Sporting Regulations.

  • b) The stopping of any car in accordance with the Code or Sporting Regulations.

  • c) The stopping of practice, suspension of a sprint qualifying session or suspension of the race

in accordance with the Sporting Regulations if he deems it unsafe to continue and ensuring that the correct restart procedure is carried out.

d) The starting procedure. e) The use of the safety car.

And this is in the context of the heading

15) OFFICIALS

Defence of this by race direction was this (from the Stewards Verdict):

Race Director’s Evidence

The Race Director stated that the purpose of Article 48.12 was to remove those lapped cars that would “interfere” in the racing between the leaders and that in his view Article 48.13 was the one that applied in this case.

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).

Conclusions of the Stewards:

The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible.

Having considered the various statements made by the parties the Stewards determine the following:

That Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control the use of the safety car, which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal.

That although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to the pits at the end of the following lap, Article 48.13 overrides that 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.

So, “That although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully”, yes, the rule was broken.

“Article 48.13 overrides that and once the message ‘Safety Car in this lap’ has been displayed”. 48.13 does not give race director any power to break 48.12. In this case, he did follow 48.13, but the fact still remains the 48.12 was broken.

“That Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control the use of the safety car, which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal.” 15.3 merely describes the chain of command among officials and who has authority over whom with respect to safety car deployments, etc. I does not mean the race director can do what he wants with the safety car, that’s what the other rules are for, including 48.12, 48.13.

A whole Formula 1 season, up until that point arguably the best season in the history of the sport, marred by incompetence driven by a lack of respect of the rules. Remember the track limits thing? That braking of the rules didn’t have huge consequences, but this breaking of the rules did. In terms of how much the rules were broken, both situations are in the same class.

For Formula 1 to redeem itself, I think they need respect. Respect for the fans, for the teams, for the drivers and for the rules. They probably also need to rewrite their rules in a simpler way and include rules around how race direction is carried out and give it some structure. Having a race director fielding radio calls from team principles during a race and even during safety car events is madness. And I can’t see how Michael Masi can continue in the job if Formula 1 genuinely respect their sport.