Lewis Hamilton has not spoken publicly since Sunday, although he received a knighthood in Windsor on Wednesday. The Formula 1 end-of-2021 season winner, on the other hand, nursing a hangover, admitted the FIA may be quickly altering the rules that led to the dramatic and controversial race victory and his Championship title. The shenanigans made for a disappointing Formula 1 end-of-2021-season.
Lewis Hamilton, 7-time FIA Formula 1 world champion, was leading on the final lap of the season at Abu Dhabi, when Race Director Michael Masi decided to lax safety car rules. That gave Max Verstappen, the 24-year-old racing phenom, an advantage that led to his Red Bull racing win — and to be crowned 2021 FIA Formula 1 world champion.
Constructor Mercedes, for whom Hamilton drives and is contracted through 2023, threatened to appeal the results, but conceded the win on Wednesday. That’s when the FIA announced it will review how the Abu Dhabi race’s final laps were managed, promising that all teams, drivers, and relevant stakeholders will be involved. The FIA has agreed to install a commission as a way to improve the robustness of rules, governance, and decision making in Formula 1.
Can an administrative body that is under scrutiny regulate itself? It seems doubtful, and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff continues to be critical of the whole structure.
Meanwhile, the FIA Formula E series has introduced a cost cap to improve financial sustainability across the teams for Season 9, starting October 1, 2022. Seeking equity across the teams can set aside imbalances in sponsorship money and elevate cross-driver competitiveness. That means real racing — not, as Lewis Hamilton has been quoted as saying about the Formula 1 end-of-2021 season last lap, “This has been manipulated, man.”
With the Formula 1 end-of-2021-season decisions enforced to excite TV viewing audiences rather than actually assess driver expertise across a multitude of conditions, Formula E is looking more and more appealing.
Formula E Continues to Evolve with New Racing Regulations
FIA Formula E is in the midst of planning a technical roadmap that will enable manufacturers to showcase the potential for electric vehicles in demanding racing conditions while containing costs. The goal is to balance innovation with financial regulation.
The move has become necessary in Formula E because what had started as good intentions by many in the championship became offset by some manufacturers who sought performance via software tools and extra engineering capabilities. The Race outlines how rumors abounded of elaborate bypassing of testing regulations, ersatz traction control systems. and increasing spend on additional engineering support away from factories.
Two sets of new FIA Formula E regulations will come into place, with the intent of regulatory framework changes to increase financial sustainability and team competitiveness.
- Spending for teams will be capped at €13 million ($20.5 million) per season, to increase to €15 million ($23.6 million AUD) per season from Season 11. This increase includes what are described as “certain transitional exclusions to address existing contractual commitments.” The increase will make it possible to the introduce the Gen3 car.
- Manufacturers will be limited to €25 million ($39.4 million AUD) over two consecutive seasons.
The adaptation has been 18 months in the making. “We have worked closely with the FIA and all participants in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship,” said Jamie Reigle, Formula E CEO. “When combined with recent enhancements to our technical regulations and sporting formats, this financial system will strengthen Formula E’s value proposition.”
Reigle added that long-term financial success at the core of the Championship needs to support existing teams and manufacturers while attracting new competitors and investment. “The shift to electric vehicles is accelerating; Gen3 will set the standard for performance and efficiency. There is no turning back.”
Reigle says the Gen3 car has “high performance, efficiency, and sustainability” without compromise. It features a 40% energy restoration produced by regenerative braking; front and rear powertrains (a new front powertrain adds 250kW to the 350kW at the rear, more than doubling the regenerative capability of the current Gen2 to a total of 600kW); and, no rear hydraulic brakes. The electric motor is designed to deliver up to 350 kw of power (470 BHP), capable of a top speed of 200 mph (320 km/h), with a power-to-weight ratio that is twice as efficient as an equivalent 470 BHP internal combustion engine (ICE).
The soft launch of the new regs will allow for monitoring and slight adaptations as are deemed necessary in real time. The regulations will be enforced via the FIA’s Cost Cap Administration, which will assess compliance, investigate instances of suspected non-compliance, and update regulatory documentation.
Interestingly, Mercedes is at the core of the regulations changes. In 2019, when the German automaker joined Formula E as a manufacturer, it shared with Porsche the highest budget in the series — which had been suggested to be in a €55-€65m range, including marketing. Other manufacturers operate on much lower budgets, the far end of which is reported to be about €10m.
Yet Mercedes has been a vocal proponent of the 2022 cost cap plan, both prior to and after its notice of intent to leave the championship as a manufacturer last August. Mercedes Formula E team principal Ian James said that he was,
“… not only comfortable [with the cap numbers], I’m of the opinion that it’s essential. We lobbied a couple of years ago for it to come in because this series needs to be sustainable. It can’t afford to become an arms race. We’ve seen how damaging that can be for other series, so I think that the mechanism that’s been put in place is absolutely the right one.”
What Happened on the Last Lap of the Formula 1 Season?
At 18:27 left in the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 race, race control announced that no cars would be permitted to unlap themselves to end the existing safety car period. (Safety cars have become much more common in F1 since Jules Bianchi crashed into a trackside vehicle at Suzuka, Japan, in 2014 and later died of his injuries.) Red Bull manager Christian Horner asked Masi over race radio about the situation. “Why aren’t we getting these cars out of the way? We only need one racing lap.”
Soon after that exchange, Masi reversed the decision, so that 5 cars — rather than all the lapped cars — were allowed to unlap themselves between Lewis Hamilton, who had been leading since Lap 38, and Max Verstappen, who had been several seconds behind prior to the safety car period. Remarkably, just 10 seconds after that, race control pulled in the safety car. With newer tires, Verstappen was able to pass Hamilton and win the race on lap 58.
Were two parts of Article 48.12 of the Sporting Regulations contravened? These discuss procedures regarding lapped cars and when the race should restart during a safety car period. According to F1 rules, all lapped cars must pass, which didn’t happen Sunday.
FIA rule 39.12 states:
“If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message ‘Lapped cars may now overtake’ has been sent to all teams … any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car. … Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.”
The Formula 1 End-of-2021-Season Ripples Continue
As Mercedes announced its decision not to appeal the results of last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it confirmed Max Verstappen as the new World Champion. Mercedes continues, though, to argue that the regulations that were not properly followed in Abu Dhabi, so that the manner and mechanism with which the race and the title were effectively decided were compromised. At the 2020 Nurburgring round, for example, cars were required to unlap themselves before the safety car period ended, in keeping with the Sporting Regulations.
Inconsistency of capricious execution of regulations continue to plague Formula 1.
Wolff has brought to light doubt over Lewis Hamilton’s continued participation in the sport. (Could Hamilton be shifting his perspective to racing team ownership? He already is founder and CEO of the Formula E team X44.) Neither Wolff or Hamilton attended Thursday evening’s prize-giving ceremony in Paris to commemorate the Formula 1 end-of-2021-season. Mercedes also declined to send its constructors title-winning F1 and Formula E cars to the FIA’s traditional pre-gala photoshoot.
“Lewis and I are disillusioned at the moment,” said Wolff during a 40-minute media briefing that examined the Formula 1 end-of-2021-season. “We are not disillusioned with the sport — we love the sport with every bone in our body, and we love it because the stopwatch never lies. But, if we break that fundamental principal of sporting fairness and authenticity of the sport, then suddenly the stopwatch doesn’t become relevant anymore because we are exposed to random decision-making.”
Duncan Bagshaw, a barrister at Howard Kennedy specializing in international arbitration and litigation, was dismissive of the race control decision-making process and said Mercedes would be in a strong position to mount legal action.
“The FIA, marking its own homework, perhaps unsurprisingly said that they stood by the decision of the race director. Everybody wanted to see that race finish in racing conditions, but the rule makes it very clear that any cars that have been lapped by the leader have to be allowed to pass the leading cars and the safety car before the race is restarted, and he did not allow that to happen. It’s very important for Mercedes to give the message that racing is the most important thing to this sport.”
Want to learn more about watching Formula E? Click here. 🙂
Image courtesy of Mercedes Formula E press kit
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