Re-emerged footage has shown Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley and Formula 1 race director Michael Masi in conversation about lapped cars near the end of the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Formula 1 originally featured the footage on their F1TV: Inside Story series in December, but it has recently gained traction on social media.
It shows Wheatley talking over the radio to Masi during a crucial part of the race. The race was under a safety car at the time. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton led Max Verstappen of Red Bull in the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship battle.
Why was the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale so controversial?
Mercedes disputed the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix because of several critical decisions made in the closing laps of the race.
Hamilton was leading Verstappen by 11 seconds with seven laps remaining. He was on his way to winning an eighth Drivers’ Championship. The Brit was in control of the race.
However, a crash involving Williams driver Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car. Red Bull elected to pit Verstappen for new tyres. Hamilton could not respond. He knew that if he pitted, he would lose valuable track position.
This meant that, if the race were to restart, the Dutchman would be in a far better position to overtake his rival and win the race on fresh rubber.
It took several minutes to clear the debris from Latifi’s crash. With three laps remaining, a restart looked doubtful. Lapped cars were originally told they would not be allowed to overtake.
However, on lap 57 of 58, Michael Masi later decided to allow some lapped cars to overtake. The safety car was then brought in, meaning a one-lap shootout for the title.
Hamilton could not stop Verstappen from overtaking him on the final lap. The Dutchman went on to win the race and secure his first Drivers’ Championship.
Mercedes protested the result based on two grounds relating to the sporting regulations. There was even a protest about whether Verstappen overtook under the safety car. However, that protest was thrown out by the stewards, and Mercedes eventually decided to withdraw the other protests on the expectation that the FIA would create clarity on sporting regulations in the future.
Wheatley and Masi conversation
In 2021, Formula 1 decided to introduce a new feature whereby fans can listen to discussions between teams and the race director, Michael Masi, during races.
It has given fans new insight into the sport. But instead of receiving universal praise, plenty have asked the question of whether, in light of the fierce discussions that occur, teams should be allowed to talk to the race director at all.
During the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, both Mercedes and Red Bull used the Formula 1 facility to argue their positions during the final laps. Viewers could hear team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner desperately pleading with Masi. Viewers could also listen to the voice of Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley.
Now, ‘unearthed’ footage shows discussions that do not appear to have been shown during the live TV broadcast. Wheatley can be heard telling Masi that he can let some lapped cars through and still restart the race. As per the footage itself, the talks occur at the end of lap 56.
What was the conversation?
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 afterwards, on lap 57, Hamilton’s engineer, Peter Bonnington, tells his driver that he believes the FIA will restart the race without the lapped cars being able to overtake. In such a scenario, with five cars between himself and Verstappen, it would have been almost impossible for the Dutchman to win the race.
Meanwhile, Verstappen’s engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, tells his driver that he thinks all the lapped cars ahead of him will pass Hamilton and that everyone behind will stay in position.
When the race did restart on the final lap, Verstappen quickly overtook Hamilton and won his first world title.
Featured Image Credit: Getty