Former Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok has highlighted a potential reason as to why race director Michael Masi was left in such a precarious position late on in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Sir Lewis Hamilton was leading title rival Max Verstappen by a comfortable margin heading into the latter stages of the race in December, but a crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi put the Canadian out of the race, and deployed the Safety Car.
Verstappen pitted while the Briton stayed out, with Mercedes aware of the fact that losing track position with so few laps remaining under the caution could prove fatal to his title hopes.
Masi initially decreed that none of the lapped runners – including the five cars between the championship protagonists – would be permitted their lap back, but changed his mind just minutes later by only allowing the aforementioned five through.
Another former F1 driver Perry McCarthy recently told Formula1News.co.uk that it might have been more prudent to red flag the race immediately after the incident, but Chandhok believes that the incident itself would not have warranted a red flag in the race director’s mind.
“I have come back this year and had a few conversions and phone calls with people,” he told Express Sport.
“I think what happened was Latifi crashed and Masi had a choice, at that point you do a Safety Car or red flag.
“He looked at the incident and thought, ‘that should be relatively quick to clear up’.
“There is a recovery vehicle right there, there is an escape road right there, it should be a quick recovery so there should be a Safety Car.
“That is fine, that is not an unusual decision to have made.”
However, with a keen eye, the 38-year-old analyses that a brake fire on the Williams created a further delay to the race restart, and this is why we were left with just one lap of green flag running at the end of the race.
“I think where he got a bit screwed over really is that the brakes caught fire on the car as they were trying to take it off the track,” he explained.
“So the marshals had to jump on and get the fire extinguisher out obviously, that dumped a load of stuff onto the track.
“That, therefore, left Michael in a position of, ‘ah I’ve committed to this part of the safety car, now this has happened we have got to leave the safety car out for longer than I originally planned’.”
The Indian therefore calculates that, at the point at which the fire started, there were insufficient laps remaining in the race to bring the cars back round to the grid were Masi to red flag the grand prix.
“He couldn’t have red-flagged it at that point, because as per the procedure of the red flag you have to do an out-lap as well as a timed lap,” he emphasised.
“So if he had red-flagged it, we wouldn’t have had a restart.”
As a result of the delayed end to the late Safety Car, Masi then adjusted his decision and allowed a limited number of lapped runners through.
These additional events will likely show up in the FIA’s report after they have finished their investigation into the closing events of the race on 18 March – two days before the opening race of the 2022 season in Bahrain.