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F1 Abu Dhabi 2021: no way to run a motor race

Bryan Edwards

I'll set out my position in the first line so no one can be in any doubt: Max Verstappen is a deserving world motor racing champion.

But the sport, the drivers and the fans have been done a grave disservice by the Race Director, Michael Masi, who has capped off a season where he has demonstrated that he is unable to make a final decision and that he is easily swayed by the pleas of team principles who have learned that he can be easily bullied.

Mercedes are right to protest, not in the hope of getting the result overturned. To overturn the decision would be unjust. Red Bull and Verstappen did nothing wrong - in fact, with ten laps to go, Horner told Sky F1 from the pit wall that their best chance was a miracle. Latifi started a chain reaction that turned into that miracle.

But it was a Hellish mistake by Masi that handed Red Bull the victory without a fight.

It is that, it is Masi's decision-making over an entire season, that must come under review. He has a long history in supervising motorsport but he really doesn't seem to have a grip on it.

Even so, we can't have team principals bullying an ineffective, arguably ineffectual, official who is, in my view and that of many others, not fit for purpose. Masi must go, for the future of the greatest motor-racing series on the planet.

I know, we are all missing Charlie Whiting and we all have the feeling that he'd have banged heads together to keep racing clean and fair but hard. And he would make good decisions. And he would not enter into negotiations as Masi has done and, more importantly, he would set precedents that he would follow in future events and once a decision had been made, he would stick to it.

We would not have seen the farce we saw on Friday: in Free Practice One, Bottas asked which corners were relevant for track limits, i.e. when would a car be considered to be off the track. "All of them," he was told. It was confirmed: after a year of chaos over where the limits were, for Abu Dhabi a car would be off the track if both wheels were outside the white line. It's how it should be. It's how it is for almost every other racing series in the world (except that bizarre American series where cars are yards off-line on one corner at Circuit of the Americas). It's simple: go over, you're out. By Free Practice Two, that had been revised. Only four (I think) corners out of 17 were now to be regarded as subject to track limits policies.

Why? Because Masi changed his mind, or had it changed for him.

It all leaves a terrible taste in the mouth.

And that's a shame.

Had Hamilton won under the safety car, there would have been disappointment for Red Bull but no reason to complain: that's racing. What we witnessed in Abu Dhabi was not, as Masi claimed, "car racing." It was interference bordering on manipulation. And here's the really important thing: I think he genuinely doesn't try to play favourites. I don't think he makes decisions to prefer 33 over 44 or the opposite. I don't think he cares who wins so long as someone does and everyone goes home in one piece. Well, after Spa maybe I'm a little less convinced about that one. I don't think he's corrupt. I don't think he's driven, as so many have alleged, by pressure from Netflix to create something worthy of their already superb series Drive to Survive. I think he may get pressure from Liberty Media who need to sell the series in the USA and, as we know, in the USA rules are designed around TV coverage so that extra laps can be added so as to provide one lap of racing after a safety car (F1 doesn't carry enough fuel for such shenanigans). Well, tough, Yanks, that's not how Formula One works. We don't have, for example, a contrived safety car about ten laps from the end so that there will be a one-lap dash. And if we did, we can be sure that it wouldn't have been a car with a Mercedes engine in the back that caused it.

Was that the reason? Is there an instruction from the Rights Holder to the Race Director that races must have racing at the end? If so, then that is unconscionable. And, worse, it undermines the integrity of a sport that is, ultimately, about purity.

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