The FIA must clarify that there was no “conspiracy” against Sir Lewis Hamilton at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, Sky F1 reporter Ted Kravitz has said.
Race director Michael Masi allowed only the five cars between Hamilton and Max Verstappen to un-lap themselves – leaving the rest in position – during a late Safety Car, facilitating a last-lap move from the Dutchman to snatch his maiden world championship from the Briton.
There have since been suggestions that the race had been “rigged” against Hamilton by the stewards, but ex-F1 racer Perry McCarthy – as well as 82% of Formula1News.co.uk readers – disagree with this notion.
Mohammed ben Sulayem took over from Jean Todt as president of the FIA at the end of 2021 after the Frenchman had served his maximum 12-year stint at the head of Formula 1’s governing body.
The former rally champion is now leading an investigation into the events that decided the 2021 title, and the FIA will conclude this on 18 March.
Mercedes were in the stewards’ room after the race last month to protest the decisions that they believe cost Hamilton his record-breaking eighth championship, before they rescinded their intention to appeal a few days after the grand prix.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Hamilton himself have already congratulated Verstappen on his title success, but the Austrian recently maintained that “what happened to Lewis was just wrong.”
This was in reference to Masi’s late call, and Kravitz sees the current situation as a unique one regarding a team going up against the governing body.
“In the past we’ve had teams on one [hand] going against teams on the other, it’s not [in] this case,” he said during a Sky F1 show.
“It’s the team, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, against the governing body of the sport – and that’s where the fans feel what happened in Abu Dhabi was so wrong and where Mercedes maybe feel so wronged, and where F1 has a problem with sorting out its integrity and its confidence that people have in the sport.”
The 47-year-old then commented on the suspicion that the FIA deliberately sabotaged Hamilton at the season finale.
“Because many fans are asking if those in charge just didn’t want Lewis Hamilton to become an eight-time World Champion, and if those in charge didn’t want Mercedes to win the Drivers’ World Championship.
“That’s the issue, whether it’s some sort of conspiracy.
“That’s what this commission needs to put to bed, once and for all.
“This commission from the FIA needs to put it clear there was no conspiracy here, it was just a misinterpretation, a misdirecting of our own rules – if that’s what they find.”
Kravitz went on to stress that many fans are questioning if Masi would have made the same decision had Verstappen and Hamilton’s positions been inverted.
“Of course, the ultimate question is ‘would Michael Masi have made the same decision had it been Max Verstappen in the lead on old, knackered hard tyres and Lewis Hamilton behind on fresh soft tyres?’” he suggested.
“The question about that, I think, in the fans’ minds, is what’s eating away at the credibility of Formula 1.”
When the Safety Car was deployed, Masi initially dictated that no lapped runners would be allowed to un-lap themselves, before reneging on this a few minutes later.
Specifically, he decided to permit only the five cars between the two title protagonists to traverse the Safety Car ahead of the final lap, aware that time constraints would prevent a green flag finish were he to send them all through.
In Kravitz’s mind, one of the main details the FIA should be revealing in their report is what went on in the four minutes between the two rulings from the Australian.
“There was that four minutes between when he decided lapped cars wouldn’t overtake, then the five cars would overtake,” he explained.
“So what happened in that crucial four minutes? And that’s what the FIA need to absolutely be totally crystal clear about, and show the fans they have explained what happened.”
Kravitz’s colleague, Rachel Brookes, agrees that the events in those four minutes must be analysed and clarified to maintain integrity in the pinnacle of motorsport.
“Why did Masi change his mind? Did he have his mind changed for him? They have to be totally clear because it’s the credibility of the sport that fans are talking about,” she said.
“The fans think what happened was wrong, Mercedes think what happened was wrong, Lewis Hamilton thinks what happened was wrong and we need to sort that out.”
Brookes suggested that it is not just Hamilton fans, but F1 fans in general, that are requesting clarification on why Safety Car protocol was interpreted as it was by race control.
“I have to say it’s not just Lewis’ fans on this, it actually is wider than that and I think that’s why it’s so important we get the answers we need from the FIA.”
Hamilton is reportedly considering retiring from Formula 1 following his devastating title defeat to Verstappen at the very end of the 2021 season.
Ben Sulayem and Verstappen have joined multiple others in professing their belief that the 37-year-old will still be on the grid in 2022 with Mercedes.
The new season gets underway on 20 March in Bahrain, two days after the FIA will complete their investigation.