Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Analysis

Updated 17th January 2022, summary added

Updated 20th August 2023, typos corrected, ISC Article 1.1 added


1.  Summary

On 12/12/2021 the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finished under unusual, controversial circumstances with the Race Director (Michael Masi) choosing to apply an interpretation of the Safety Car regulations (48) in a way that they had never been applied before. This released selective lapped cars, only those between the 2 leading cars, and brought the safety car in on the same lap. A post race review by the Stewards, as a result of Mercedes raising a protest, concluded that ‘article 48.12 may not have been applied fully’ but declared that overturning the result to reflect the order of cars before the overtaking message was ‘not appropriate’.


This report analyses the F1 regulations as applicable to the ending of the Abu Dhabi Grand prix with a view to determining whether any regulations were broken. The analysis is performed against the F1 regulations as applicable for the Abu Dhabi 2021 race. This analysis is presented in the following sections.


In summary the actions of the Race Director were in breach of several regulations, that apply to Officials and are punishable as per Article 12 of the International Sporting Code, including;

F1 Sporting Regulations 2.1 General Provision. This requires officials to observe all provisions of the regulations. The regulation 48.12 provides two messages that can be used to instruct competitors to unlap (or not). The Race Director did not use either of these messages but created a new message to selectively unlap cars (see Section 2.2)

F1 International Sporting Code 1.1 General Principles. This requires the FIA to enforce regulations based on principles of safety and sporting fairness. The Race Director compromised safety by instructing the safety car to return to the pits before all the track clear confirmation messages had been received (see Section 2.3). The Race Director also compromised sporting fairness by issuing instructions that prevented all drivers from competing equally in the final lap. Whilst the two lead cars had no cars between them, the car in third had cars between them and second place so was not able to challenge for a better finishing position. The Race Director instruction resulted in the race being about only the two leading competitors, to the exclusion of all others.

F1 International Sporting Code 1.2.3. This requires the powers of the FIA to ‘never be enforced so as to prevent or impede a Competition or the participation of a Competitor’. By excluding the third place competitor, and those that had been released from behind the safety car having insufficient time to join the back of the pack, they were impeded from fair participation and denied the opportunity to improve their final position in the race.

Appendix M to the International Sporting Code : Manipulation of Competitions. Article 10 defines ‘Manipulation of Competition’;

The Race Director chose to apply Regulations in a way that had never been applied before. In so doing, an undue advantage was given to the competitor in second place who could directly challenge for the lead without needing to defend against the car in third place. Also, once the safety car had been dispatched the lead car had no opportunity to stop for fresh tyres without losing track position; The second place car had the opportunity and did stop for fresh tyres. Having chosen to misapply Reg 48.12, leaving the second place car immediately behind the lead car (with no cars in between) the unpredictable nature of the competition was partly removed as it was apparent to the Teams, Competitors and audience that the lead car, with heavily worn tyres, had very little chance of defending a car with fresh tyres. This enormous difference in tyre performance was known before Reg 48.12 was mis-applied and could therefore realistically have influenced the decision that resulted in the undue advantage, whether intentional or not.


In drawing their conclusion to ratify the ending, the stewards also breached the same regulations as the Race Director and were complicit in the manipulation of the competition.

In addition one of the stewards also breached International Sporting Code Article 11.5 Conflict Of Interest;

Derek Warwick owns a Honda dealership on the island of Jersey https://www.derekwarwick.com/derek-warwick/ 

As Honda provide engines to Red Bull Racing, the association of Honda with a World Drivers Champion will likely increase sales of their road cars; they used the win in their marketing. This means that Derek Warwick 'appears to have financial interests' that 'may detract from his ability to perform his duties with integrity', which is a clear Conflict Of Interest

2. Did the Race Director break the rules

2.1 General Undertakings

Section 2 (General Undertaking) of the Formula One Sporting Regulations clearly states that officials are ‘to observe all the provisions’ of ‘the regulations’. The officials are listed in section 15 and include ‘A Race Director’. It also states the applicable documents that define the provisions, and that all events in the Championship are to be governed in accordance with the regulations. 

The use of the safety car in the closing laps of Abu Dhabi 2021 contravenes the General Undertakings.

2.2 Safety Car

The use of the Safety Car is governed according to Section 48 of Formula One Sporting Regulations. Article 48.12 covers the ability for unlapped cars to unlap themselves.


The provisions allow for two specific messages to be used ‘LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE’ and ‘OVERTAKING WILL NOT BE PERMITTED’. Either message is sent to all Competitors. The messages apply to all drivers equally

The Race Director did not send a message that was available under the provisions. They chose to make up a new message that instructed specific cars to unlap.

The message sent by the Race Director contravenes the Safety Car regulations. From this point, the race becomes illegitimate.


48.12 also clearly states that ‘once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap’. Calling in the safety car on the same lap as the lapped car passed the leader contravenes article 48.12.


As there are no other articles covering the Safety Car then it is clear that Article 48 was the correct article to use under these circumstances and Article 48.12 is the only article that covers unlapping of cars under the safety car. Therefore, the intent of the regulation is clear, irrespective of whether the correct message was issued.


Another important point that is highlighted by the above screenshot is the timing for ending the safety car. It has been suggested that the safety car should have ended earlier. As can be seen from the timing screen the track clear message was not issued until after the unlap message. The safety car needed to stay out until the track was clear. If anything, the safety car was called in too early.

2.3 General Principles

Article 1 of the International Sporting Code (which is included in the ‘regulations’ in accordance with Section 2 (General Undertakings) of the Formula One Sporting Regulations) covers General Principles. There are two ‘fundamental principles’; safety and sporting fairness. All decisions made by FIA officials should support one, other or both of these fundamental principles. The regulations have been written specifically to support and encapsulate these principles. Any interpretation of the regulations must be taken and assessed against these principles.

Article 1.2 states that the Sporting Code has been drawn up to enable the ‘fair and equitable’ application of the regulations, with 1.2.3 clearly stating that the regulations ‘will never be enforced so as to prevent or impede a Competition or the participation of a Competitor’.


The actions of the Race Director contravened the General Principles. By sending an illegitimate unlap message that selectively unlapped only some cars, some of the competitors were impeded from participating in the rest of the race. This selective application was therefore not ‘fair and equitable’.

3. The stewards response 

As per the document issued after the protest relating to article 48.12, the stewards reached their conclusion based on two determinations, both of which are incorrect within the context of the regulations and the events in the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.


3.1 Article 15.3 

The stewards incorrectly asserted that Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control the use of the safety car. This is as a result of the Red Bull evidence that ‘Article 15.3 gives the Race Director “overriding authority” over “the use of the safety car”


Whilst article 15.3 does contain these words, they need to be used in the context of both article 15 and the wider regulations, specifically the General Undertakings, which both apply and take precedent, ensuring that officials observe the provisions of all the articles and provisions in the regulations.

The override in 15.3 applies to the ability of the Race Director to override the decision of the clerk of the course, not the provisions in the regulations

The subject of article 15.3 is the clerk of the course. It states that the clerk will ‘work in permanent consultation with the Race Director’. It then states that the ‘Race Director shall have overriding authority’. In this context it is clear that the Race Director is authorised to override the decision of the clerk of the course.

Again article 15.3 is only valid in the context of the General Undertaking (2.1) so even with overriding authority, the Race Director has to adhere to 2.1 and observe all the provisions in the regulations, including the safety car provisions in section 48.


There is room for confusion in article 15.3 in that Items a - c explicitly state that the override has to apply 'in accordance with the regulations'. Items d & e do not include the same statement. Had the General Undertaking not been included on the 1st page of the regulation, then having complete override of the safety car would be a valid interpretation. However the existence of General Undertaking, which applies to all articles, means that it cannot be implicitly overridden. If article 15.3 items d & e intend to give the Race Director authority to override the regulations then it should be explicitly stated within the item.


3.2 Article 48.13 

The stewards assert that 48.13 overrides 48.12 and that once the message ‘SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP’ has been issued then the safety car must come in. Whilst it is true that having issued the message in 48.13 it must be obeyed, the point of contention is whether 48.13 can legitimately be issued without article 48.12 having been completed. The stewards determined that 15.3 gives the Race Director authority to invoke 48.13 at any time. As shown in the previous section, this is not the intention of the regulations; 15.3 only provides the Race Director to override the decisions of the clerk of the course; decisions which are clearly indicated in the regulations.


The articles within the regulations are written to be a set of stand-alone instructions with a start and an end. 48.12 starts with a decision by the clerk of the course and ends with either lapped cars being unlapped and the safety car coming in (a lap later), or the message ‘OVERTAKING WILL NOT BE PERMITTED’ being issued.


There is no intention in the regulations to break out of an article due to another article being triggered.


Notwithstanding the override argument, by the time the ‘SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP’ was issued, the race was already illegitimate due to the Race Director issuing an unlap message that was in violation of Article 48.12


Hence the argument about article 48.13 cannot be justified.

4. Race Directors Evidence

The stewards recorded two points of evidence that were provided by the Race Director

4.1 Intent of Article 48.12

Nothing in the regulations states that preference can be given to the race leaders and preventing interference to their race. On the contrary, the General Principles of the International Sporting Code state that the regulations ‘will never be enforced so as to prevent or impede the participation of a Competitor’. By selectively applying the regulations for only the leaders, all other Competitors were impeded.


The original intent of unlapping cars behind the safety car did include preventing back markers from interfering with the leaders. It was clear when the regulations were written that the general principle of sporting fairness was embedded in the regulation, requiring the unlapping to be executed in a way that is fair to all competitors. The re-interpretation of the safety car regulation was not fair to all competitors and therefore violates the fundamental principles. The interpretation could not be applied in a way that is fair to all competitors under all circumstances and therefore is not a legitimate interpretation of the regulation.


The Race Director invented a new, illegitimate purpose for Article 48.12, in contravention to International Sporting Code Article 1.2.

4.2 Desire to end “green”

Whilst there had been discussion that expressed a preference to finish races in a “green” condition (i.e. not behind a safety car), there is nothing in the regulations to support this desire. The regulations take precedence over any unwritten desire by the teams and officials.


Furthermore, there was a legitimate course of actions, within the regulations for the race to end in a “green” condition, which the Race Director chose not to execute. Had the illegitimate unlap message not been sent, then the safety car could have been called in using Article 48.13 with cars between the leaders in time for the final lap to be conducted under race conditions. The blue flags would apply to the unlapped cars, allowing the lead cars to easily overtake them. There are differing opinions of whether this is a valid application of the safety car regulations. Given the article structure and the necessary decisions, it is arguably a valid interpretation, but as it results in some competitors being disadvantaged, it does not meet the full principle of sporting fairness.


There is photographic evidence that marshals were on the track as the cars approached the final corners of lap 56, so the earliest the safety car could have been called in is lap 57. Indeed, according to the official messaging system, the safety car was called in prior to all the track clear messages being received, so it is arguable that the safety car should have stayed out longer.


The Race Director had an option to satisfy the desire to finish the race “green” but chose a different option that contravened article 48.12 and International Sporting Code Article 1.2.

5. Other Items raised by Red Bull 

Red Bull raised five arguments; three of which have been addressed in the previous sections.

5.1 'Any' v 'all'

The word ‘any’ can only be interpreted as ‘all lapped cars’ within the context of 48.12. The exact same message “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” has to be sent to all Competitors. ‘Any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car’. As there is no mechanism to send a message to selectively unlap cars then ‘any lapped car’ means ‘all lapped cars, if there are any’.

Article 48.12 goes on to say ‘once the last lapped car has passed the leader’, which again emphasises the intent that all lapped cars are required to be unlapped.


It is clear from the wording of 48.12 that the intent is that all lapped cars are to be unlapped. There is no provision in the regulations to unlap selective lapped cars.


Irrespective of the meaning of ‘any’, the message that the Race Director sent was not within the provision and therefore was illegitimate. 


5.2 All cars unlapping wouldn’t have changed the outcome

Had Article 48.12 been followed then the safety car would have stayed out for another lap and hence the race would have finished under the safety car with no opportunity for the 2nd place car to challenge for the lead. 

Even had the safety car been permitted to come in a lap early, there was insufficient time for all the lapped cars to pass the safety car before the start of the last lap, so the safety car would need to stay out until the end of the race. 


Therefore, this argument is false.

6. Conclusion

The stewards assessed evidence presented without taking into consideration the full extent of the regulations. In so doing they made a judgement based on a misinformed view of the authority of the Race Director, who falsely claimed that he had the authority to implement new interpretations of the regulations, based on his incorrect assertions that article 48.13 overrides 48.12 and his view that the desire to finish ‘green’ was more important than complying with all the provisions of the regulations as required by International Sporting Code Article 1.2.


The Race Director demonstrated a lack of knowledge as to their role and responsibility and applied poor judgement in respect to new interpretations of the regulations.


The stewards also demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the regulations, failing to recognise that the General Undertaking (2.1) applied in this context and is included in the regulations to ensure that officials observe the provisions of the regulations. They failed to understand the limits of the Race Directors authority under article 15.3, taking an interpretation of the article without applying the General Undertaking.

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