Michael Masi “acted in good faith and to the best of his knowledge” and was “under immense pressure” from Mercedes and Red Bull, the FIA has said after Formula One’s governing body finally published its report into last season’s controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen took the title from Lewis Hamilton’s grasp after Masi, removed as race director last month, allowed only five drivers to un-lap themselves in the closing stages of the season finale.
The FIA described Masi’s action as a “human error” before concluding that the results of the race can no longer be changed, effectively reaffirming Red Bull’s Verstappen as the 2021 world champion.
— FIA (@fia) March 19, 2022
The FIA delivered its verdict on the eve of the new campaign here in Bahrain and 97 days after the contentious race.
In a statement, the FIA said: “The Race Director called the safety car back into the pit lane without it having completed an additional lap as required by the Formula One Sporting Regulations (Article 48.12).
“It was apparent from the analysis that there could be different interpretations of Article 48.12 and Article 48.13 of the Formula One Sporting Regulations, and that this likely contributed to the applied procedure.
“It was also considered that the decisions regarding the safety car at the end of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix likely took into account previous discussions that made clear the Formula One Stakeholders (FIA, Formula One, teams and drivers) preference to end races under green flag racing conditions, rather than behind a safety car, when safe to do so.
“In combination with the objective to finish under green flag racing conditions applied throughout the 2021 season, the report finds that the race director was acting in good faith and to the best of his knowledge given the difficult circumstances, particularly acknowledging the significant time constraints for decisions to be made and the immense pressure being applied by the teams.
“The results of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the FIA Formula One World Championship are valid, final and cannot now be changed.
“The process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error led to the fact that not all cars were allowed to un-lap themselves.”
In the final stages of the season finale on December 12, Masi fudged the rules when he ordered only the lapped cars between Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen through, providing the Dutchman – on fresh tyres – a shot at passing Hamilton, who was on old rubber.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team lodged and then dropped their appeal against the result in a reported quid pro quo agreement that Masi would be removed by the FIA – an accusation the Silver Arrows have denied.
Although Masi has faced severe criticism, some within the FIA wanted him to stay – not wanting to seem to be dictated to by Mercedes.
Masi also received the backing of a number of drivers, notably four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and British driver Lando Norris. Max Verstappen accused the FIA of throwing Masi under the bus after he was sacked.
The FIA statement continued: “In accordance with the rules, Mercedes made a protest to the stewards after the race, seeking to change the race classification.
“The stewards dismissed the protest and Mercedes then had an opportunity to appeal that decision to the FIA International Court of Appeal, but did not do so. There are no other available mechanisms in the rules for amending the race classification.”