Mercedes has stated its intention to challenge the stewards’ decision, giving the team 96 hours to determine whether to file a complete appeal, although the race results from Sunday remain, with Verstappen as the winner and world champion.
“Mercedes claimed that if the unlapped car regulations had been followed, Hamilton would have won the race and hence the championship”
Verstappen had to wait until late at night for the judgement, which came four hours after he crossed the finish line, overtaking championship rival Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap of the race.
After Nicholas Latifi’s incident forced a Safety Car period, Mercedes was furious with how the closing circuits of the race played out.
After using the Safety Car to pit for fresh tyres while Hamilton remained out on much older tyres,
The decision to have the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen unlap themselves and then restart the race for a single lap allowed Verstappen to start the final lap directly behind Hamilton, which was a huge benefit for the Red Bull driver.
The stewards rejected the Mercedes appeal about Verstappen overtaking Hamilton before the race had resumed, as well as another Mercedes objection over the unlapping of vehicles.
The cause of Mercedes’ disagreement
After FIA race director Michael Masi opted to let the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, Hamilton’s Mercedes crew was not satisfied with how the scenario evolved.
All lapped vehicles should unlap themselves before a Safety Car restart in normal conditions, as per Article 48.12 of the Sporting Regulations, so that the field is in positional order when racing resumes.
The restart must take place on the lap after the unlapping, not on the same lap as the unlapping, as was the case in Abu Dhabi.
After Red Bull team boss Christian Horner radioed Masi to express his displeasure with the first judgement, race control amended the decision to allow five cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to unlap themselves, presumably so that the race might resume before the last lap.
When Masi allowed the five cars to unlap and rejoin the race on the same lap,
It essentially handed Verstappen a clean lead over Hamilton, whose 43-lap-old hard tyres provided him a considerable performance advantage.
Mercedes claimed that if the unlapped car regulations had been followed, Hamilton would have won the race and hence the championship.
Article 15.3 “allows the race director to manage the use of the safety car, which in our opinion includes its deployment and removal,” according to the stewards.
However, it seems that Article 15.3 is in the regulations to specify the duties of the race director and the clerk of the course, not to enable the race director to disregard the Safety Car restrictions.
Masi, the race director, said that he decided to “eliminate lapped vehicles that might ‘interfere’ with racing amongst the leaders.”
The objection was rejected, as was the request that the stewards correct the situation by changing the classification to match the positions at the conclusion of the penultimate lap.
Mercedes also filed a complaint against Verstappen under Article 48.8 of the rules, which states that no one is permitted to overtake the lead vehicle after the Safety Car has returned to the pits.
In the penultimate sector of the lap, Verstappen came level with Hamilton and seemed to briefly overtake the Mercedes before the restart.
However, in a separate hearing, the stewards disregarded that objection as well.
“Having considered the various statements made by the parties, the Stewards determine that, while Car 33 did briefly move in front of Car 44 at a time when both cars were accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and was not in front when the Safety Car period ended at the line.