Abu Dhabi controversy: McLaren CEO says some rules are ‘not acceptable’

Red Bull and Mercedes hounded race director Michael Masi over a series of incidents between the teams in 2021.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown is not impressed by Formula 1 team principals recently lobbying race director Michael Masi for favourable in-race decisions.

Persistent throughout the 2021 season were comments from Red Bull and Mercedes team members made over the radio to Masi during races, and this was particularly prevalent during the season finale in Abu Dhabi last month.

Following a Turn Six incident between title protagonists Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on the opening lap, Red Bull’s Jonathan Wheatley rallied the Australian to award the lead of the race to their driver, while Mercedes’ Ron Meadows argued that the seven-time world champion had sufficiently given up the advantage he gained by leaving the circuit.

The situation was exacerbated when a late crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi resulted in the Safety Car being deployed, and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was on the radio to Masi asking him not to deploy it.

READ: Ex-F1 driver denies Masi tried to sabotage Hamilton but criticises ‘rushed’ decision

In a recent interview with Formula1News.co.uk, former F1 driver Perry McCarthy said that red flagging the race after the Williams driver’s collision with the barrier would have been more prudent.

After the Safety Car was brought out, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner demanded that lapped cars be allowed through as there were very few laps remaining to complete the grand prix, and five of them stood between leader Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen.

Following a significant amount of nagging with both teams, Masi eventually made the unprecedented decision to only allow the five runners between the leaders to un-lap themselves, leaving the rest of them in their position due to the time constraints.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton on the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP podium.v1

Many in the F1 community have since opined that Masi’s call was based on his radio contact with the teams, and F1 technical director Ross Brawn has since promised to close this channel of communication for the 2022 season.

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Mohammed Ben Sulayem was elected as president of the FIA at the end of last year, replacing Jean Todt who had served his maximum of 12 years in charge.

Brown sees this as a chance to review how laws are made and applied in Formula 1.

“The election of Mohammed Ben Sulayem last December as the new president of the FIA provides the opportunity for collective reform of the way Formula 1 operates,” said Brown in a McLaren column.

The FIA are currently conducting an investigation into the late, controversial events of last month’s curtain-closer, and the 50-year-old has said he believes that the radio contact itself was not the issue, but rather the fact that the rules allowed Red Bull and Mercedes to hound race control.

READ: Schumacher says Hamilton ‘not at all fair’ to Verstappen for skipping gala

“It is obvious to focus on the events of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, which are the subject of an FIA investigation, but this was a symptom rather than cause in my view.

“There have been systemic issues around alignment and clarity on who makes the rules – the FIA or the teams – that have manifested themselves in the past couple of years, at times in a high-profile way.”

Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has recently called for more consistency in the regulations and stewarding in the pinnacle of motorsport, and Brown shares this view.

“Greater clarity on the roles of the FIA and F1 and the need for increased leadership of the sport will undoubtedly be on the agenda for Mohammed Ben Sulayem and [F1 CEO] Stefano Domenicali and their respective teams,” he wrote.

“Previous administrations pursued a mainly autocratic style of governance, so to point the sport in the right direction it was necessary to take a more consultative approach with teams and stakeholders.

READ: What is Fernando Alonso’s El Plan?

“But now the sport has been successfully reset, moving forward there is a need to shift back to stronger, more directive leadership and governance at the top of the sport.”

Brown, who took on his role in 2016 following the short tenure of Jost Capito, believes that the current state of play in the F1 regulations is “not acceptable.”

“It is clear that some of the rules and their governance are not acceptable as things stand.

“No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage.”

Between them, Mercedes and Red Bull won 20 of the 22 Grand Prix last year, and as such were by far and away the strongest teams.

Third-placed Ferrari ended the season 190 points adrift of champions Mercedes.

Brown suggested that Mercedes and Red Bull currently have too much control over F1’s hierarchy.

“I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced,” he added.

“We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.

“Yes, teams should be consulted, and their informed perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But at times it has seemed the sport is governed by certain teams.”

While many have called for the sacking of Masi following several contentious moments in 2021, the American was quick to remind readers that the teams have only added to the chaos.

“Let us not forget that we, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone,” he explained.

“It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a Safety Car at all costs. It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about.

“It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials.”

READ: Schumacher says Hamilton ‘not at all fair’ to Verstappen for skipping gala

One frequently-advertised theory since Abu Dhabi has been that Liberty Media prioritised an entertainment spectacle over a fair sporting finish, and Brown warns that the teams and FIA all need to ensure that Formula 1 remains a sport with integrity.

“This has not been edifying for F1. At times it’s felt like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport.

“I am confident that we will see increased leadership from the FIA and F1, and that collectively as custodians of the sport we will focus on evolving the sport and not shirk responsibility when it comes to tough decision-making,” he concluded.

McLaren narrowly lost out on third in the Constructors’ Championship to Ferrari in 2021, and managed five podiums throughout the year between Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

At the Italian Grand Prix, Ricciardo claimed the team’s first win since 2012, while Norris came home in P2 to complete their first 1-2 since 2010.

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