Lewis Hamilton decision contradicted F1 director Michael Masi’s past quotes

Michael Masi’s decision to allow five cars between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton to clear the way ahead of the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was in direct contradiction to his own stated rules on safety car procedures, it has been revealed.

What was effectively a sprint finish was won by the Red Bull racer as he overtook his Mercedes rival to claim a maiden Formula One championship, but the move was hugely controversial and has left Masi under enormous pressure.

Hamilton has been heard on his team radio claiming the outcome was “manipulated”, after the sudden change in directives.

The alteration was all the more jarring for the Brit as the FIA race director appeared to change his mind under pressure from the Red Bull camp.

Hamilton led by 11 seconds heading into the final 10 laps, but halfway through that final stretch a crash saw the safety car come into play. Verstappen then pitted for fresh tyres but still had several cars between himself and Hamilton, with Masi not letting the lapped racers past Hamilton – until he reversed his own decision, unlapping those between the two title rivals but not the rest of the field.

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That is in total contrast to his own previous words following the Eifel Grand Prix in Germany, a little over a year ago, when he revealed the entire field of lapped cars were required to pass the safety car.

“There’s a requirement in the sporting regulations to wave all the lapped cars past,” he said at the time.

“From that point, it was position six onwards that were still running [on the lead lap], so between 10 or 11 cars had to unlap themselves.

“Therefore the safety car period was a bit longer than what we would have normally expected.”

Had that been the case in Abu Dhabi, and the safety car completed another full lap as usual before exiting, it would not have cleared the track ahead of the final lap – which would have left Hamilton cruising over the finish line in first place to win another championship of his own.

Somewhat predictably, the two team chiefs had opposing views on the incident too, which happened after Nicholas Lafiti crashed to see the safety car head out, with Toto Wolff labelling Masi’s call “unacceptable” and Mercedes protesting the race result – which his opposite number in the Red Bull camp, Christian Horner, said was a “desperate” reaction to defeat.

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