Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2021

Verdict on error in GT race suggests Mercedes would have lost 2021 Abu Dhabi GP appeal

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The FIA’s International Court of Appeal (ICA) determined that an erroneous application of Safety Car rules by a race director is not enough of a reason to annul the results of a FIA sanctioned race.

The governing body of motorsport’s highest court recently quashed a ruling from the Spanish Automobile Federation’s National Court of Appeal (NCA) regarding a race in the International GT Open series last year which was annulled due to a Safety Car restart taking place with cars out of the correct order. Although the verdict was announced weeks earlier, the full explanation for the decision was only published this week.

The decision has parallels to the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of the season, which decided the outcome of the championship and the events of the final race in Abu Dhabi of that year. The ICA’s decision has changed the identity of the International GT Open champion.

Mid way through the International GT Open series second race at the Red Bull Ring last October, the Safety Car was deployed for the second time in the race. However, the Safety Car did not pick up race leader Karol Basz, but 12th placed Alessandro Cozzi instead. The race restarted with Cozzi at the head of the train, rather than Basz as should have occurred under normal Safety Car procedure.

After the race, the Motopark team protested the result with the stewards due to the erroneous Safety Car execution. The stewards rejected that protest, with Motopark appealing to the Spanish Automobile Federation’s NCA, which upheld that appeal, cancelling the race stewards’ decision and annulling the results of the race.

Following an appeal of the annulment by competitors Optimum Motorsport, the ICA quashed the NCA’s decision and restored the race results to those originally announced. The ICA determined that that while race director Neus Santamaria failed to correctly apply the Safety Car rules through a genuine mistake while acting in good faith, that was not reason enough to amend or annul the results of the race.

Among the reasons for this decision were that the ICA determined that the incident did not constitute ‘force majeure’ – something that all parties involved agreed with. It also determined that annulling the results of a race which had impact on subsequent races in terms of time penalties imposed would have had an impact on results which would have breached the concept of “sporting fairness” as applied under the FIA’s International Sporting Code. Furthermore, the court determined that annulling or amending the result of the race would, in effect, be attempting to “rectify an unfair situation by creating another unfair situation”.

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As a result of the ICA’s decision, the champions of the International GT Open series – Simon Reicher and Christopher Haase of Estalent Racing – have lost their titles to Optimum Motorsport and drivers Sam de Haan and Charlie Fagg, following that team’s successful appeal.

The ICA’s determination offers an insight into how any appeal by Mercedes following the conclusion of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would have likely played out, had the team gone through with an appeal of their post-race protest being thrown out by the race’s stewards. Like the International GT Open, the result of the race was heavily impacted by an incorrect application of Safety Car rules by the race director, Michael Masi. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was overtaken by championship rival Max Verstappen on the final lap, losing the race win and the world championship.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff had stated following the race that his team believed “we had a very strong case” to appeal. However he also expected that even if they had succeeded, the outcome would have been the annulment of the race, which would not have resulted in Hamilton becoming champion.

“If you look at it from the legal side, if it would have been judged in a regular court, it is almost guaranteed that we would have won,” Wolff said following the decision to not appeal to the ICA.

“I don’t think that, at the moment, we are set up in terms of our governance to end up in a situation that would have given us a remedy that would have reinstalled the result that was taken away from Lewis before the last lap of the race,” said Wolff. “And that’s why, heavy hearted, we have decided not to appeal because we wouldn’t have gotten the result back.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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47 comments on “Verdict on error in GT race suggests Mercedes would have lost 2021 Abu Dhabi GP appeal”

  1. There we have it then. Hopefully this will be the last article from this website to mention AD21, as its time for EVERYONE to move on from it.

    1. Just because there was no way to correct the mistake, doesn’t mean the rules were correctly applied or that the result of the championship wouldn’t be different if the race director hasn’t screwed up and broken the rules he himself had previously said he had no choice but to follow. Saying that there was no remedy within the rules to correct and admitted mistake is not the same as saying the officials acted correctly.

    2. Hear, hear. The umpire’s decision is final, and should be respected.
      It was time to move on 2 years ago.

    3. Yes. Because we don’t discuss Adelaide 94 anymore either, right? Right?

    4. And yet, in good honest sports where the sport trys its best to make sure the rules are followed, If some body randomly changes them during said sport, the event is replayed… Like this one ” https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/anderlecht-genk-var-replay-error-b2485908.html

    5. That would require everyone to believe that the FIA not having force majeure to break its own regulations constitutes sufficient excuse for it to not only break those regulations, but refuse to mend the consequences of its admitted misconduct.

      Anyone who accepts that should not be following any form of FIA motorsport, on the grounds that it would no longer be sport. By continuing to follow FIA motorsport, the people of this thread have implicitly indicated that they believe the ICA is wrong in this case.

    6. Find the decision and read it. Sections 57-68 states the complete opposite of what this headline contends.

      Time to move on? ‘fraid not. An inauthentic finish and the WDC awarded thereby is still on the books. No reason for those who believe in safe and fair sports to give up until the FIA does something substantive to protect the sport we claim ot love.

      The ICA decision established that the ‘overriding authority’ power of 15.3 DOES NOT mean the race director can change rules. It also asserted that the ICA can ANNUL or AMEND race results. They wouldn’t step in here because changing things impacts an ongoing series.

      They let the ‘broken restart’ st

  2. Who cares anymore?

    1. @jerejj move along then

    2. You, since you click to view then commented. Therefore Increasing it’s scope.

      Fans of a sport care. Not that F1 is much of a legitimate competition

    3. @jerejj Anyone who would like motorsport to be a sport. Turns out the F1 paddock not prosecuting the FIA for the misconduct in Abu Dhabi 2021 has resulted in it extending that misconduct to other series, who are less able to fund restitution or justice, and less able to afford the negative consequences of the FIA’s behaviour.

  3. so in the name of “sporting fairness” we’re going to let this egregious miscarriage of the rules slide
    I don’t even know what to say

  4. This doesn’t mean much… just because court gives a verdict doesn’t mean they were right. Bringing legal outcomes in line with moral truths is a never ending endeavor.

    1. Moral truth .. interesting invention to change the reality.
      Factual there was a decision made by a sporting director that made it a great race. With a deserved winner and nothing wrong on track!
      The other fact is that Toto was wrong “again”.. nothing new there.

      1. you and your twisted reality

      2. made it a great race

        Best ever, the mouth-foaming reaction of the f4nb0yz was -still is- priceless

  5. Like the International GT Open, the result of the race was heavily impacted by an incorrect application of Safety Car rules by the race director, Michael Masi.

    That’s not exactly what was said. The FIA concluded that ‘the process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error lead to the fact that not all cars were allowed to un-lap themselves’. That’s where the error bit came in.

    But going into the final lap, the leader (Hamilton) and the 2nd placed driver (Verstappen) were still in their correct spot. It was only behind them that there were a few stragglers out of place. It is a bit of a leap to suggest that this error ‘heavily impacted’ the outcome of the final lap. This implies Sainz could have been enough of a threat to Verstappen that the latter wouldn’t have been able to attack Hamilton, but given Verstappen’s speed advantage – never mind his character and absolute focus on winning the race – this is very questionable and not at all similar to the situation where a substantial part of the field was out of order, as in the mentioned GT race.

    The order of the field being wrong in Abu Dhabi 2021 was a bit of a back-up argument anyway, which only really came to the forefront when claims that an additional lap were required were shown to be wrong and also not in line with how the teams themselves wanted the rules to be applied, instead preferring a green flag finish whenever possible.

    1. Michael: “But going into the final lap, the leader (Hamilton) and the 2nd placed driver (Verstappen) were still in their correct spot.”

      I don’t think that is in dispute. I think the point is that if Masi had followed procedures correctly, there would not have been time to restart the race and they would have finished the final lap under safety car, and hence not changing tyres was the correct strategy. If the race was able to finish with racing laps, changing tyres was the correct strategy. It was the tyre choices that impacted the final lap, not the car positions. Either way though, Mercedes long ago accepted that the result couldn’t be changed and moved on, whether Masi was at fault or not, and as Gubstar says at the start of this thread, maybe it would be good if the rest of us moved on as well.

      1. Next to a RD manipulating the race result there was also a moment when HAM and VER were in the wrong order, which is called overtaking under SC.

        1. If you are talking about the moment that Verstappen’s car was slightly in front of Hamilton’s car:

          (Abu dhabi report)
          12. At 22:14 local time, after having heard the representatives of both F1 Teams concerned, the
          Stewards issued Document 57 whereby they determined that “although Car 33 did at one stage,
          for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of Car 44, at a time when both cars where
          accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and it was not in front when the Safety Car
          period ended (i.e. at the line). Accordingly, the Protest is dismissed.”

          So there was no “overtaking under SC”.

          My apologies if you are talking about another moment in the race.

          1. Which is an infraction of the regulations that in any other circumstance would have been penalised. Thank you for further justifying those who oppose the way the FIA handled the race.

      2. Fact is, and that is also stated in the Abu Dhabi report, that the rules could be interpreted in more than one way. So, Masi acted within the at that time available rules and therefore he acted correctly.

        1. There were two ways the regulation could be interpreted (either release all the lapped cars or none of them), and Masi’s method complied with neither.

          1. Nope, take the rulebook of that time and read it. It stated “ANY” at that time and not “ALL”. The “either release all the lapped cars or none of them” witch you are talking about is something that only exists in some people their minds.

            But hey, show me otherwise (that’s not so difficult i think, just post the correct piece of regulation in the rulebook that you are talking about) and i will gladly excuse me for my mistake.
            But if not i would be nice if you did the same.

            So Masi concluding that “ANY” was also a correct interpretation of that rule at that time was correct.

    2. Wrong again. Points are awarded to the top 10 places in a race, not just 1st place. So the fact that all of the cars behind the first 2 cars were not in the correct restart position, the race was not conducted fairly. It was that simple.

  6. I find it interesting your thoughts, you Have clearly thought long And hard about this race and the Violent nature of the final lap. Even though the Safety car was an option, i believe that at Every second the drivers should be competing for the X-ray of glory. Watching this race truly reminded I of the lacking sport That formula one Has become. as i have said to You all On another comment, this sport has Usurped itself into a place of simple slow, where Rarely any true skill is placed by the trust fund babies that we call Drivers. it is simply a requirement of money and wealth to drive in one of these races, with Absolutely no requirement of skill or prowess.
    Disgraceful sport now.

    1. @f1frog Not entirely sure why you decided to write that particular ‘hidden’ message…

  7. One ruling now on a completely different incident that wouldn’t have had the might of Mercedes legal team backing it up does not make it fact they would have lost any appeal and indeed the article title says as much with the use of the word “suggests”. That being said as was said at the time there was no mechanism by which Hamilton could have been awarded his deserved title and as such there was little point in proceeding. The best case scenario was making the race result null and void which wouldn’t help Mercedes or Hamilton.

    And people will always remember that race and the tarnished way in which Verstappen took his first world title. It’ll stick to his career like Schumacher’s deliberate accidents with his title contenders in 94 and 97.

    1. But going into the final lap, the leader (Hamilton) and the 2nd placed driver (Verstappen) were still in their correct spot.

      That’s the real bottom line. Instead of remembering it as a great season where two rivals went head to head until the last few laps of the last race, we instead will remember the name Masi. I cannot remember who it was who crashed and brought out the safety car, I cannot remember who the drivers were that should have been allowed to unlap themselves, but I’ll never forget the part that Masi played in ruining the final moments of the season.

      1. We may well wonder how much the Mercedes case would have made of the fact that the, at best, unconventional interpretation of the restart procedure was exactly what had been given to Masi by Red Bull. The issue in this GT race does just seems to be a simple error and that really devalues its value for a precedent.

  8. The decision is laughable like all the rest. Changing the results would have impacted “sporting fairness” but somehow running the race incorrectly does not impact sporting fairness. I lost respect for all of the teams after the race Max “won” as many drivers were adversely affected by the decision to not follow the proper safety car restart procedure but none of them protested setting a precedent. Others pitted besides Max but the others were not allowed to form up in running order before the restart. 1 driver was allowed through but the others were not. It was in no way sporting fairness, if Max was moved up, the others should have been. Max would have won and the others would have raced their opponents as well.

    1. Lost respect for the drivers too (and media actually) as if it’s something they’d be fine to see had they been in Lewis position. Stained the whole sport for me full of people afraid to say and do the right thing or speak up. Which is why UFC and indycar are much more refreshing.

      F1 isn’t even a competition, it’s a glorified showcase event held 20 odd times a year, and operationally constipated

  9. Move on. This situation would never have happened if Lewis had not hit his magic button and gone straight on at turn one at Baku he would have picked up 18 point to Max nil. If Lewis had not been saved by a lucky Red Flag at Imola which helped him lift from 14th to 2nd.
    Lewis was lucky to be in the position of being level on points at the end of the season.
    That’s without taking into consideration not being punished sufficiently enough for incompetently or intentionally shunting Max of the track at Silverstone, which included the “Valtteri this is James” instruction.
    All the issue about Masi is hyped up to cover the fact that Lewis got beaten over the season, not just the last race.

    1. Yes yes sure, all of it would never have happened if the big bang never happened too!

    2. The situation would have never happened if max had been fairly given a penalty for running lewis off the road in Brazil, the situation wouldn’t have happened if max had been fairly disqualified for reckless driving, corner cutting and brake checking an opponent during the saudi grand prix. All he got was the stewards turning a blind eye and one 5 second penalty. Lucky

    3. Martin Morris, it could very well have happened. If the FIA been bothered to uphold any number of regulations, it could have been decided either way before Abu Dhabi, depending on which ones you selected – but if all of them had been upheld Hamilton would have won the title during Abu Dhabi without needing to change any action of his.

      Only people who hate motorsport are going to be moving on from this, given the FIA has shown it wishes to encourage misconduct from officials by not correcting obvious and admitted flagrant errors.

  10. Yes yes sure, all of it would never have happened if the big bang never happened too!

  11. Hey, that’s what I said at the time of the original ruling… The reasoning is a joke.

    FIA needs to cede their ICA to a genuinely impartial third party that has full reign to punish the FIA itself for its stewards misapplication of its own rules.

    Otherwise the outcome will simply always come out on the side that says the FIA can do nothing wrong.

  12. I think what the ruling tells us is that the power to annul a race completely will only be used in extreme circumstances, and that an error in safety car procedure is unlikely to be extreme enough to warrant its use. In terms of its application to AD21, it seems likely that annulment would not have been the outcome – especially since a failure to allow all cars to unlap themselves is arguably less significant than the one made in this instance. But no one was actually asking for an annulment – Mercedes wanted to wind back the classification one lap, as though the chequered flag had waved at the end of the safety car period and the final lap never happened. This is probably a less extreme outcome than cancelling the race altogether, so would the ICA have allowed it?

    I would say the answer is still probably “No,” since the error in unlapping procedure arguably didn’t affect the race result (i.e. if all cars had unlapped themselves correctly, the final lap would have largely gone down the same way, with the same overtakes happening), but it is still not an exact comparison with the case under discussion here.

    1. @red-andy Neither case allowed anyone to know whether events would have gone down the same way. Hence why there were motor races going on in the first place.

    2. “i.e. if all cars had unlapped themselves correctly, the final lap would have largely gone down the same way, with the same overtakes happening), but it is still not an exact comparison with the case under discussion here.”

      WRONG! If they all unlapped themselves, there would not have been time to do the 1 lap shoot out. There would have been no laps left.

  13. Mostly what this shows is that the FIA’s position was indefensible.

    There was no force majeure, which means there was more reason, not less, to change the result to repair the damage done by the official’s accidental action.

    The only legal alternative to annulling the result would be going through a sequence of trying to unpick the effects of the mistake. There is a legitimate debate about which would be more advisable for this case, and it would be reasonable to allow either on a case-by-case basis according to how that debate goes. However, leaving an error be tends to result in more errors – as happened here. It’s not just that failing to correct the result is unfair on those involved; refusing to correct an obviously erroneous result on a basis that appears to be worse than no excuse at all is unfair on everyone who competes in motorsport under the FIA’s gaze, at whatever remove from the error. It means they cannot trust in what officials tell them are the rules, because the officials are welcome to make them up and have their decisions protected.

    *- As I understand it, the provision for the latter currently begins and ends with “take the results from lap X, as if a red flag for an out-of-context problem such as an unheralded alien invasion had occurred”). For those arguing that an alien invasion would have been noticed immediately, so was the misconduct from the FIA (both for Abu Dhabi 2021 and International GT Open Austria 2023); the difference is that team owners can’t enforce the fact they noticed with phasers and sci-fi shenanigans. If more tools

  14. The irony between Abu Dhabi and then the seasons that followed, is that the F1 purists tell everyone how we should enjoy the mid-field battles since Max is running away with all the races, whereas the mid-field battles were abandoned on the last lap in Abu Dhabi for the show.

  15. “The FIA’s International Court of Appeal (ICA) determined that an erroneous application of Safety Car rules by a race director is not enough of a reason to annul the results of a FIA sanctioned race”.

    This is precisely why Merc didn’t appeal. They knew the FIA would be marking their own cards.

  16. I’d head over to the FIA site and read this on your own. The headline here is in error. My read of the document points to the EXACT OPPOSITE…Any Mercedes challenge of Masi’s “error” would have been upheld.

    -No such power of ‘overriding authority’ to change rules
    -ICA has the power to annul or amend
    -Sporting Fairness is the main essential

    This result was let stand on a ‘balance of interests’ call that would have hurt others in the middle of a series.

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