Sainz backs F1’s Safety Car rule change after lost chance to fight for “first win” in Abu Dhabi

2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Carlos Sainz Jnr has welcomed the FIA’s revision of the Safety Car regulations in the wake of the controversial conclusion to last year’s world championship.

The Ferrari driver says he was disadvantaged by a decision, taken by FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi, to only allow a portion of the lapped drivers to unlap themselves ahead of the final restart during last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Sainz was running third at the end of the race behind leader Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Prior to the restart, Masi allowed the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to rejoin the lead lap, giving Verstappen a clear run at Hamilton.

However he did not do the same for the two cars separating Verstappen from Sainz, driven by Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. Verstappen subsequently passed Hamilton to win the race and the world championship, which prompted a protest from Mercedes.

Following the FIA’s investigation into the controversy, F1’s officiating structure has been overhauled, and Masi moved out of the role of race director. This week the FIA published revised sporting regulations stating all lapped cars must be allowed to overtake the Safety Car prior to a restart, which had been common practice prior to Abu Dhabi.

Sainz welcomed the revision, noting he had been put at a disadvantage by the novel interpretation of the rules used in last year’s finale.

Ricciardo (and unseen Stroll) separated Verstappen from Sainz
“I am a strong believer that if that example helped to make the Formula 1 rules better then so be it,” said Sainz in response to a question from RaceFans.

“I was affected by it. You guys know that it was a very unfortunate situation for me because I was probably fighting for my first win in that case and I had two cars in front of me that didn’t allow me to fight for that.”

This weekend’s race will be the first under F1’s revised officiating structure. The role of race director is now being rotated between two people, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, assisted by Herbie Blash and supported by a dedicated virtual race control division which has been likened to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) used in football.

“I just think the FIA have taken the right step moving forward, that everything was understood and I’m happy to see everyone moving on and especially taking the right direction and decisions,” Sainz added.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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48 comments on “Sainz backs F1’s Safety Car rule change after lost chance to fight for “first win” in Abu Dhabi”

  1. Carlos Sainz’ supposed chance for a win in Abu Dhabi exists solely in his own imagination.

    1. I like Carlos, but he seems to have developed a delusional streak of late. He was convinced pole in Monaco was gonna be his (no guarantee he would’ve beaten Max and Valtteri). He’s convinced that on old tyres in Abu Dhabi he could have fought…a fresh soft-shod Max.

      This will be his downfall. He needs to remain rooted in reality or else he risks getting beaten by Leclerc this year.

      1. @proesterchen @wsrgo Hamilton and Verstappen lost time going through turn five on the last lap as they changed places, I don’t think it’s at all unrealistic for Sainz to think he would have had a chance at slipstreaming them down the following straight.

        1. Carlos’ last lap before the SC was a 1:27:618 compared to a 1:26:833 for Lewis and 1:27:559 for Max on his old tires.

          I don’t see how he could have had the pace to stay with Lewis and Max through T5, much less out-accelerate either leader down to T6.

          1. @proesterchen @keithcollantine The point is every driver should be equal so far as the rules – and those who are meant to enforce them – are concerned.

            Even if Sainz didn’t have a realistic chance of winning, it doesn’t change the fact that he was disadvantaged, along with every driver on the grid bar Verstappen.

          2. Your logic is like asking the cars from 11 to 20, to just step aside as they have no chance of winning.

          3. @maichael

            “Carlos Sainz’ supposed chance for a win in Abu Dhabi exists solely in his own imagination.”

            That’s my point.


            Based on performance and tyre age, any driver other than Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen claiming to have had a chance to win the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP without both crashing is deluding themselves.

          4. @proesterchen Sainz had a real chance to win, and a decent chance to finish higher than 3rd and has every right to complain about the decision Masi made. Even though it didn’t happen, there was a reasonable chance that neither Verstappen or Hamilton finished the last lap, or if they did, severely wounded and slow. Masi’s decision didn’t only negatively impact Hamilton, but others as well, to the sole benefit of Verstappen. Even more reason for Masi to rightfully get dismissed from his duties.

          5. The butterfly effect of more cars passing the leaders means the interaction between Hamilton and Verstappen would not be the same. They could have collided or delayed each other more and Sainz would certainly have been closer. He would have had an increased chance of winning.

        2. I agree with @keithcollantine , @proesterchen @wsrgo Sainz could have taken advantage of cutting the track between the 2 long straights overtake both Max and Ham then release some of that oil ferrari can’t burn anymore wacky races style and win the race. He’d get a 5 sec penalty for cutting the track but he’d still finish 1st.

        3. At the very least, he could (should?) have been a factor in the Verstappen / Hamilton battle. With the state of Hamilton’s tires, he might have even finished second.

          I doubt he would have been able to overtake Verstappen, but he certainly could have made Verstappen’s life much more difficult.

          1. Lewis rolling his car home in the lead was still 8 tenths a lap quicker than Carlos fighting for 3rd.

            Max was clearly quicker than Lewis after switching to fresh rubber, so how you imagine Carlos having a go at either is just baffling to me.

        4. @keithcollantine I remember him bringing this up then but why again now? Is it because he was asked?

          1. Of course, Keith is milking this topic to the ultimate bottom.
            So I expect several repeats of this topic during the year.

    2. Maybe not : if Verstappen divebombed again Hamilton and they both went out of the track, with him restarting 3rd he could have passed them instead of having to deal with backmarkers

    3. It was still very much a chance, low as it may have been, that was denied entirely by Masi’s actions.

    4. That’s totally wrong. If he was right behind VES the situation could have been totally different. Lewis could have tried defending differently and open a door for Carlos. We’ll never know because he wasn’t given that chance, which is wrong.

      As for Monano, Ferrari was the car to beat and he had already posted a purple sector so he had every right to say he potentially lost pole position.

      1. Indeed @afonic, not to mention possibility of a better restart to take VER and/or HAM. Sure, a long shot, but a shot he never got to take, which is why his reaction is logical and why this change (given what happened there, before I am quite sure we all thought it was very clear what the procedure was, but whatever) was needed.

        1. @bosyber It’s also likely that had he fought for the win, he would have ended up slowing himself by being crowded around the outside or inside and losing out to the faster and fresher-tyred Tsunoda and Gasly behind.

          Anything is possible, all is conjecture, none of this is helpful.

          1. @wsrgo, well, if you must, take your last sentence to heart then; I and @afonic protested the comments saying Sainz should keep quiet because there wasn’t a realistic chance, when the point was, and remains, that he was denied any way of trying/showing whether it was.

            Those who found themselves saying we should all move on (and even more so those who said, and keep saying Masi did not make a wrong decision there) are wrong to deny Sainz his words in supporting this change for te reasons he gives, which are valid. No one has a right to win or overtake, but unless safety is at stake, the sport should strive to give everyone equal opportunity to use their (race) craft, which didn’t happen.

      2. @afonic In Monaco, Sainz set a purple S1 in his first lap too, and ended up P3, 0.265 seconds behind Leclerc. And if you still think S1 times count for something, Verstappen was quicker than Sainz on the final lap which he had to abort because of the red flag.

        1. All you have to do is look at where Ricciardo was on the last lap. Coming onto the back straight he was right with the cars in front. Sainz would have had a double tow down the straight and perhaps forced Verstappen to go defensive. Probably not, but we’ll never know because of one man’s actions. It was a huge screw up and totally unfair to take drivers out of a the “motor race” Masi said it was.

        2. @wsrgo he had a valid shot at pole position before his teammate crashed. Just saying so doesn’t mean he is “not rooted”. He was driving a pole capable car in that quali, not a Haas. If he doesn’t think he can be faster than Leclerc he might as well go home!

  2. Low chances of winning are still chances. He was 100% denied of them. You never know what could’ve happened. But as it turned out, that unfair decision had another layer of unfairness in Sainz. I think it’s more than reasonable that he’s disappointed with the whole thing, just like Hamilton (tho Lewis had more at stake)

    1. Of course not. With the same amount of luck he needed to win he still could have passed the two interfering drivers (he did not succeed in that simple task if you would have fought for a win) and pass Hamilton and verstappen.
      So if his luck worked he would have won….
      BTW, several other drivers successfully passed ie Bottas.

  3. I hope they aren’t still going to allow communication between the race director/race control and the pit wall. That’s what caused all the problems in Abu Dhabi, Masi being put under pressure from Horner and Wolff.

    1. @chrisr1718 Team managers/racing directors still can, TPs not anymore.

      1. RandomMallard
        17th March 2022, 19:34

        @jerejj And isn’t it being handled differently by the FIA? I’m not sure, I may have interpreted something wrong, but I thought I read somewhere that it wouldn’t go directly the RD, but to an intermediary beforehand whose job is just to handle that Team-to-FIA comms. But I may be misremembering.

  4. Isn’t this irrelevant anyway because if all the cars had unlapped themselves, the final lap of the race should have been run behind the safety car as per the regulations?

    1. @georgeod Yes or alternatively, no unlapping at all.

    2. …the final lap of the race should have been run behind the safety car as per the regulations.

      I agree. That would have given Sir Lewis Hamilton an 8th world championship.

  5. Sainz didn’t have any business challenging for the win in Abu Dhabi. Maybe he could have had a go at Hamilton who was on a 44 old set of hard tyres but nothing more. He also forgot that RBR retired Perez on purpose in order not to risk anything for Verstappen.
    In normal circumstances Perez would have served as a blocker while Verstappen mounted an attack on Hamilton. Even if Sainz was right behind Verstappen, a win wasn’t realistic given the pace advantage RBR and Mercedes have over Ferrari.

    1. @tifoso1989 I doubt Perez would’ve retired if the car were fully healthy.
      I’ve never heard or seen anyone suggesting what you do.

      1. @jerejj
        Teams cannot retire a car without showing cause to the FIA because retiring a car will grant them a free gearbox for the following race. RBR did have a valid reason to retire Perez’s car at the end of Abu Dhabi GP. I didn’t say they cheated. RBR explanation was that the engine was on the limit.

        On the other hand, that was the last lap in the season and why would they care about the PU. The purpose of retiring Perez’s car was mainly so that he couldn’t cause a yellow flag and prevent Verstappen from attacking Lewis on the last lap.

  6. I think the should and could have let all cars unlap themselves in lap 56 or even before. Unfortunately Masi was a bit slow.

    1. @rinodina Undoable because Latifi’s crash location was still uncleared.

      1. @jerejj

        Latiffi’s crash site was just one particular spot on the circuit. They’ve got more than 3 miles to overtake each other, including 2 long straights. Just tell the drivers to take care between corner 12 and start/finish, and the whole lapped cars procedure could have been over & done with within one lap.
        Lap 56 – overtaking
        Lap 57 – last lap behind safety car.
        Lap 58 race!

        Simple as that.

        1. If you listen to the commentary of the race they were fully expecting a restart when Latifi’s crash was being cleared, so you would guarantee that Masi and the teams did too. As it turned out, the delays clearing it away created the pressure for race control to get back underway as they had intended. The directors room must have been like a pressure cooker with the title fight on and team principles constantly interfering.

          1. The time it took to move Latiffi’s car away and clear the tarmac should not have any influence on the overtaking procedure. Either they got it cleared in time for a restart or not. In the first case all cars are in the right order to race the last few laps, in the second case they all finish the race behind the safety car in the same order. It makes no difference.

            Masi’s mistake imho was just waiting too long before giving permission to overtake.

  7. There seems to be an attitude of some people that think that just because the Ferrari didn’t have the pace of the two in front, not removing the lapped cars between Sainz and Verstappen was acceptable.

    The fact is, the rules were applied differently to the leading cars than those chasing. Percieved ability shouldn’t come into it. Competition can only be competition if everyone has the same opportunities. Ironically enough Sainz and those behind him were not able to go motor racing, as Masi himself claimed had happened in that cringy soundbite.

    Would the outcome have been different? Probably not, but F1 can be unpredictable and it potentially changed the complexion of that final lap as Verstappen had no threat from behind. It also made the race director look incompetent and Sainz is right to feel cheated of an opportunity.

    As an aside, the real problem here is the random and artificial swings in fortune based on tyre changes during safety cars/red flags. This whole farce here and at preceding races could be avoided by closing the pit lane during SCs and banning tyre changes during red flags.

  8. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    17th March 2022, 12:44

    In what way would Sainz be able to fight for a win in Abu Dhabi – he was behind Max and Lewis and Max was on the softest tyre.

    In what fantasy world does Sainz live that he thinks he could have overtaken both in a single lap if he was right behind Max at the restart?

    1. That’s irrelevant, fact of the matter is he had a chance which Masi denied him.

      1. The only reason he had a chance was because the restart was rushed, if we were denied the restart, Sainz had no chance.

  9. I realize it’s racing, and Sainz would have had every right to go for the win, but imho I think it is fair to ask should he have, if given the chance? With one lap to go in the Championship he was going to consider it his place to affect the Championship when he wasn’t in that fight? Personally I think in that circumstance, or had it been done differently and helped Sainz be closer, I still say the onus was on him to keep out of Max’s and LH’s way. It’s not hard to imagine that Max and LH would have raced him extremely hard if Sainz was racing them for the win, such that contact would not be hard to imagine either. Did Sainz really want to risk taking out one of the WDC contenders? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I can’t help thinking of Jerez 97 when the drivers were all told to not interfere with the fight between JV and MS. Why? Because we wanted them to settle it on the track between themselves as the only two drivers with the WDC shot.

    1. @robbie – this idea of treating championship contenders as sacred baffles me. At least Vettel didn’t see it that way back in 2008 at Interlagos and Petrov in 2012 – and I applaud(ed) them for that! “Let them race” should apply to all regardless of championship status.

      1. Emma, I hear you and going by the majority of the comments here they would agree with you that it is simply fair game for all, for every lap of every race of the season. Mind you, we do have blue flags where we don’t do the ‘let them race’ philosophy with back markers on front runners, so it’s not like they don’t ask drivers to stay out of the front runners’ fight on a regular basis.

        I gave an example of Jerez 97, so it is not like I am pulling this thinking out of a hat. In the case of AD 2021 we had the two very Championship contenders sitting one and two with one lap to go. I don’t think I am crazy to suggest Sainz should not have interfered even if he had the opportunity. Of course in general the vast vast majority of the time I am all for letting all of them race at all times for that is what they are there to do. But to affect a Championship when there are only minutes left in the season and the two very contenders are out front? I think there can be some exceptions once in a while.

        I think we can easily imagine a lot of people being very upset if their driver was interfered with while going for the Championship, for the sake of the offender’s first win. Which is the bigger ‘fight’ shall we say? Which is that which the fans paid to see and waited all season for? Of course nothing legally would prevent Sainz, for example, going for it, but I just question whether that would really be the ideal thing. The ‘classy’ thing. The right thing. It would totally depend on which fan you asked. I think it would have been pretty risky and perhaps even selfish for Sainz to chance taking one of the WDC contenders out and deciding the Championship in front of the world, so long as he goes for a race win. Much can depend on the circumstances of the final races too, as your examples show, but I just think…last lap of the season, the only two WDC contenders sitting 1-2…leave them alone to fight it out between the two of them and if anything and you’re Sainz, just sit their poised if something happens and they open up an opportunity…but don’t force it and risk taking one of them out.

  10. A lot of people saying Sainz would have no business going for a win or is delusional. He was asked a question and he answered. Going for the win was not infeasible, a little flash of red in the mirrors could have distracted Verstappen, or perhaps with nothing to lose all 3 could have been taken out and Tsunoda picks up a win. Point is regardless of who you wanted to win the same opportunity was not given to Sainz as it was to Verstappen, Other finishing positions in the championship still matters to other teams. There are 20 cars, not 2

  11. Where was sainz three months ago, I might be wrong but it’s the first I’ve heard of his complaint, maybe if a few others had piped up and not just Mercedes then it might have made more of a difference

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