After their second protest over the race director’s controversial handling of the final-lap restart in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was rejected by the stewards on Sunday Mercedes gave a formal indication they intended to appeal against the decision.Yas Marina circuit – they had 96 hours to submit that appeal.
After throwing Mercedes’ two protests out, two further documents were issued by the stewards in Abu Dhabi: The final race classification and championship standings. Both included the footnote: “Subject to an appeal lodged with the ICA [International Court of Appeal]”. No appeal has yet been lodged. The clock is still ticking.
So for the last three days the Formula 1 world has been in a state of limbo, wondering whether the race which decided the world championship in Max Verstappen’s favour is going to be the subject of an appeal.
If Mercedes was to go ahead with an appeal over the outcome of a race which decided the world championship, it would not be unprecedented. Coincidentally, the most recent case also involved Lewis Hamilton missing out on the title.
After Kimi Raikkonen beat him to the 2007 championship by a single point at Interlagos, a row broke out involving three cars which finished between the pair. The cars of Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld – which took fourth, fifth and sixth places respectively – were found by FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer to have broken a rule stating fuel must not be cooled more than 10C below the ambient temperature (as was Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams, which finished 10th).
After considering an alternative source of evidence, which indicated the ambient temperature was lower than Bauer observed on the FOM timing monitor, the stewards ruled the cars complied with the regulations. McLaren, who’d had several punishing run-ins with the authorities during the season, copping a $100 million fine over the ‘Spygate’ row, pursued an appeal.
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However McLaren stumbled on a technicality. They failed to submit a protest within the required 30 minutes of the results being published. Their appeal was therefore thrown out as being inadmissible, and Raikkonen was confirmed as champion.
The ruling was handed down on November 15th, in good time ahead of the FIA’s prizegiving ceremony which was held in Monaco on December 7th. But at the end of the mammoth, 22-race 2021 F1 season, timings are much tighter. The FIA prizegiving is due to take place tomorrow in Paris. Mercedes’ appeal deadline expires at 8:30pm local time.
“The 2021 FIA prizegiving – my last as FIA president – will be staged in Paris in celebration of the champions of our sport,” said Jean Todt, who is relinquishing his position in charge of the sport’s governing body, and will not want his final such ceremony overshadowed by this acrimony. But the possibility of a Mercedes appeal threatens exactly that. That point was surely made clear to the FIA when Mercedes refused to participate in a photoshoot ahead of the event with both its title-winning Formula 1 and Formula E teams.
Mercedes may intend to bring an appeal or may be using the timing of the event to apply pressure to the FIA to reach some kind of deal under which it drops its objections. But with the world championship hanging in the balance, it’s not obvious what kind of sweetener the FIA could offer. Either way, we should know within little more than 24 hours.
Could the deciding factor be Hamilton himself? In 2007 he said he didn’t want to win the championship in a court room. He adopted a similar position five years ago in another dispute involving Verstappen. Mercedes submitted a protest over the Red Bull driver’s defensive moves after the Japanese Grand Prix, but pulled it after Hamilton made it clear he did not support the plan.
“There is no protest from myself,” Hamilton stated on social media. “[I] just heard the team had but I told them it is not what we do.” (A successful protest wouldn’t have swung that year’s title Hamilton’s way: A penalty for Verstappen would have meant Hamilton ended the championship two points behind Nico Rosberg instead of five.)
Following Sunday’s disappointment Hamilton returned home and earlier today collected his knighthood in a long-awaited ceremony at Windsor Castle. An appeal would inevitably attract cries of ‘bad loser’ and be regarded by some as unworthy of his recent award for ‘services to motorsport’. With seven titles already in his pocket, could his first act as a knight of the realm be to call off an appeal?
The FIA will certainly be hoping so. But there will be others who would consider it a service to motorsport for him to challenge an officiating call which they feel prioritised the show above fair competition.
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