F1’s Controversial Finale Would Make A Really Good TV Show
2:59 PM EST on December 12, 2021
Have you seen the Netflix series Drive to Survive? It’s great. There’s all these super-hot people, and they travel to gorgeous locations all around the world, and then they race these funny-looking cars where the wheels are on the outside. Generally there’s some drama. It’s well-produced, too. And did I mention everyone is gorgeous? Great show.
You’re not going to believe this, but this whole sport was not just created for the show. It’s called Formula 1, and it is indeed the number one formula. It’s been around since 1950! Geeze, they should’ve done a show on it sooner. It’s pretty great. Today was the final race of this year’s Formula 1 season, and oh boy. It was full of so much drama.
Two racers, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and zero-time champ Max Verstappen, came into the final race today tied on points. Whoever finished higher would win the championship. They grabbed the top two positions in qualifying, and were basically 1-2 the entire race. It’s almost as if someone scripted it for a hit Netflix series, which, honestly, is a conspiracy I am starting to find very convincing. You might, too, when you hear what else happened today at the Abu Dhabi World Grand Prix.
Verstappen, who drives for a team sponsored by a certain energy drink obsessed with wacky sports, had the pole. Hamilton, who drives for a team more properly named after a fancy car company, took the lead almost instantly. As the race continued and he pulled ahead, it seemed like a foregone conclusion he was going to win his fifth straight drivers' title. (His team, Mercedes, had already clinched the constructors’ championship—which is what they call the team title for some, presumably European, reason.)
Hamilton led 51 of the race's 58 laps, and was ahead with five laps to go. That’s when Nicholas Latifi, way back in the race, crashed his car. (He “threw a spanner in the works,” per Motorsport.com.) This led to F1 sending out the safety car to clear the track, and put drivers in a holding position. Hamilton and Verstappen both had the option to pit; only Verstappen did. He basically got a free pit stop for new tires.
This probably wouldn’t matter; there were four lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen. That means Verstappen would’ve had to pass them before reaching Hamilton. And it was so late in the race, race organizers—stewards, they’re called, also presumably for European reasons—could’ve just red-flagged the race and ended it. Hamilton was still going to win.
But then the stewards decided to just let the lapped cars pass Hamilton, setting Verstappen up just behind Hamilton for one final lap of racing. The official reasoning was that the track had cleared enough for the cars to pass, but this was an unusual decision. Verstappen had fresh tires—quite possibly spelled “tyres”—and passed Hamilton. Hamilton couldn’t get back around him, and Max Verstappen won his first Formula 1 title.
Wow. Look, you don’t even have to know that everyone involved is hot to find this fascinating and exciting. What a race!
The Mercedes team was not happy. They filed an official protest after the race, alleging violations of Articles 48.8 and 48.12 of the FIA Sporting Regulations. (Even casual fans watching the race might’ve thought, “Ah, yeah, Article 48.12 might’ve been violated here.”)
Meanwhile, Red Bull is celebrating (but, for some reason, not by spraying Red Bull all over each other). Speaking post-race, Christian Horner, head of the Red Bull team, said of Nicholas Latifi’s late crash: “He’ll be getting a lifetime supply of Red Bull for sure.” He’d begged race officials to let Verstappen have one last lap to pass Hamilton, and naturally defended their decision. “It’s unheard of to leave the cars unlapped,” he said. “You could see they wanted to get the race going again, but they don’t need to catch up the back of the pack. They made absolutely the right call. Difficult circumstances for the stewards, we are all putting pressure on them, but they called it right.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes is furious! During the race, Mercedes racing head Toto Wolff—Toto Wolff!—told officials, “It was so not right. We need to go back to the lap before.” The response from race director Michael Masi: “Toto, it’s called a motor race, okay? We went car racing.”
The first protest, under Article 48.8, was denied. Mercedes said Red Bull overtook during the safety car period, breaking the rules. Red Bull’s defense was that “there were ‘a million precedents’ under Safety Car where cars had pulled alongside the moved back behind the Car that was in front.” This was upheld, as Verstappen did slightly move ahead during the caution—but was behind by the time the race began again. Yeah, this ruling seems fair.
The next protest, Article 48.12, is where Mercedes has more of a case. Here’s Motorsport.com on the rule:
The decision to only allow some lapped cars to unlap themselves is unusual as Article 48.12 suggests that the message ‘LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE’ should be sent to all competitors.
The regulation is then explicit about when the race can be restarted.
It states: “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.”
Following the letter of these rules, Mercedes and Hamilton should’ve won the race. Right? Forget that only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were allowed to pass, which also seems like it violates the rule. Under these rules the safety car wouldn’t be able to exit the track until the end of lap 58: Since drivers can’t pass when the safety car is out there, and the race is only 58 laps, Hamilton would’ve won. Mercedes argued that the rule says “any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.”
But this protest was denied, too. Stewards ruled against it on a number of issues, including that “any” does not mean “all.” Race organizers also said Article 48.13 overrules article 48.12—it is .01 higher!—and that the safety car was right to exit on the penultimate lap. Also, Article 15.3—that’s an even bigger number!—says the race director can basically use the safety car however he wants. Sure, why not?
If you think all of this sounds like it might make a decent season of a TV series, man, do I have a show for you.