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F1 Abu Dhabi: Verstappen wins the race and the championship; Stewards deny Mercedes’ protests.

Abu Dhabi, UAE, Dec 12/21 (GRW): Lewis Hamilton effectively led every lap of the race except for the very lat one. After a controversial decision by the race director to allow some – but not all – of the lapped cars to unlap themselves prior to the final restart after a Safety Car period, Verstappen, who was now in second place right behind Hamilton, took full advantage of his fresh ‘soft’ tires compared to Hamilton’s well-worn ‘hard’ tires and passed him half-way around and he went on to take the checker, winning the race and thereby winning the F1 World Championship.

[Technically, Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, had taken the lead when Hamilton pitted for fresh tires on lap 14 and he continued to lead until he pitted on lap 21. But Hamilton was always in control despite this anomaly of the first pit stop cycle.]

Clearly this was an unorthodox decision on the part of Michael Masi, the Race Director. The rules allow for two options: either give all lapped cars the wave-around or none. Masi chose a third option, one does not match up with the written rules.

Had Masi chosen to give the wave-around to all the lapped cars, the race’s 50 laps would have been completed under yellow and Hamilton would have been the winner. Had he chosen to not give the wave-around to any of the lapped cars there would have been about five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen on the restart – and Verstappen, soft tires and all, would never have been able to get past all those cars plus Hamilton on the single final green-flag lap, making Hamilton the race winner and the F1 champion.

Not surprisingly, Mercedes filed two protests related to this bungled restart procedure – the important protest related to the odd decision to allow some, but not all, of the lapped car unlap themselves – the decision which set up Verstappen’s last lap race win.

By rights, it seems as if the stewards had a black-and-white case of an error on the part of the Race Director, an error which allowed the wrong driver to win the race and the championship. However, once the trophies had been presented and the fake champagne squirted, it was going to be hard to go back on the race result and declare Hamilton the champion in the steward’s room.

So, it was not a huge surprise when the stewards published their decision to NOT uphold the protest and use a bunch of gobbledygook rationalization for their decision.

This stewards’ decision is subject to further appeal but, given the mess a decision to the contrary would make, I doubt that those after-the-fact appeals will go anywhere.

But here’s something strange: I was able to access the FIA website and see the formal stewards’ decisions denying both of Mercedes’ protests – but now that website has been blocked and I have been told to go to their facebook page which, while it does show the official ‘provisional classification’ with Verstappen as the race winner, it makes not mention of the post-race protests of the decision by the race stewards.

It makes one wonder what is going on behind the scenes???

POSTSCRIPT: Now the FIA website has come back on line; see below for the officical documents.

• Click HERE for the Steward's decision (48.12)

• Click HERE for the Official Race Results

• Click HERE for the Final Points Standings

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