Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle has given his verdict on the ‘unearthed’ footage that shows conversations between Formula 1 race director Michael Masi and Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley during the closing laps of the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The footage, which shows Masi and Wheatley in discussions over the radio, was originally published by Formula 1 in December.
However, the footage has gained significant traction since a fan reshared it on social media on Wednesday. The FIA has received major backlash.
The sport’s governing body has said in a statement that it is “aware” of the footage.
The controversial Abu Dhabi finale
With three laps remaining in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was leading Max Verstappen. If the Brit won the race, he would seal his eighth Drivers’ Championship. If Verstappen won, he would be champion instead.
At this point, the race was being run under the safety car. That was due to a crash involving Williams driver Nicholas Latifi. It then took the marshals several laps to clear the debris, and the end of the race neared ever closer.
Between Hamilton and Verstappen on track was five lapped cars. Under the sporting regulations, ‘any cars who have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car’.
Originally, the call was made by Masi not to allow lapped cars to unlap themselves. This was communicated to each driver by their race engineers. What that meant was that, even if the race had restarted, it would have been nearly impossible for Verstappen to pass Hamilton and win the championship.
However, on lap 57 of 58, race direction announced that lapped cars would be able to unlap themselves. But only the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were allowed to do this. The race then restarted, and the Red Bull driver, on fresher tyres, overtook his rival and won the championship.
Mercedes immediately protested this result after the race. Their argument was based on two sections of the sporting regulations. They eventually withdrew the protests on the basis and expectation that the FIA would provide better clarity over the regulations in future.
What was said in the controversial footage?
The ‘unearthed’ footage shows a conversation between Jonathan Wheatley and Michael Masi about the lapped cars, beginning on lap 56.
Wheatley can be heard telling Masi that he can let lapped cars through and then still restart the race.
The full conversation goes as follows:
Wheatley: “Obviously those lapped cars, you don’t need to let them go… right the way around and let them catch up with the back of the pack.”
Wheatley: “You need to let them go…”
Masi: “Understood, just give me a second.”
Wheatley: “…and then we got a motor race on our hands.”
Shortly after the footage, Masi can be heard on the live broadcast telling Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff: “It’s a motor race.”
Martin Brundle responds to “uncomfortable” F1 footage
Martin Brundle, who competed in F1 between 1984 and 1996, is now one of the sport’s leading commentators and pundits. He has had his say about the footage, brandishing it “uncomfortable” to watch.
He told Sky Sports: “Let’s not assume it is giving Masi information he didn’t already know in terms of what he could and couldn’t do in terms of the lapped pack.
“Of course, it’s really uncomfortable, and a lot of people are unhappy. Hamilton fans, Mercedes fans.
“And you don’t even have to be a Lewis Hamilton fan to think that forever he should be an eight-time world champion because, for me, the really crucial regulation that wasn’t carried out was that the safety car should have come in at the end of the following lap.
“But we also know that unwritten rules and meetings, which shouldn’t supersede anything, were: let’s try not to have a race finish behind the safety car.
“Hugely unacceptable. I met so many fans that were new to Formula 1 last year particularly, and fans in general, that were hugely upset by what happened. We cannot – and we know it’s going to change – have teams getting at the referee while he’s trying to make critical decisions with cars on the track and marshals and breakdown vehicles.”
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