Abu Dhabi wasn’t down to luck and Mercedes’ strategy was on point

© LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

Christian Horner has tried to defend the controversial finish of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and said Red Bull got “fortunate with the incident”. We respond.

Much has been written about the controversial decisions made by FIA race director Michael Masi at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which allowed Max Verstappen to overtake Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the race.

In short, once the Safety Car came out due to Nicolas Latifi’s crash at the tight exit of turn 14, five laps before the end of the race, Red Bull called Max Verstappen into the pits to put him on fresh soft tyres.

Mercedes, however, decided to keep Lewis Hamilton (who had a comfortable lead at the time) out on old worn-down tyres, because they didn’t want to give up his track position to Verstappen.

It has to be understood that, since Verstappen didn’t have the pace to overtake Lewis on the track, Red Bull had to always do the opposite of what Hamilton does, in hopes that if luck strikes, he’ll have an opportunity to overtake through strategy.

Since Lewis was ahead on the track, Mercedes were the first team to decide if they were going to pit, and they decided against that, because had they pitted Lewis, Red Bull would have kept Verstappen out, and he would take the lead in the race.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Mercedes knew that with only five laps remaining, it was impossible for the marshals to clear the track of Latifi’s wrecked car in time for the race to be restarted.

The rules state that once the track is cleared, the lapped cars need to unlap themselves, and only at the end of the following lap can the race be restarted.

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This means that by allowing Verstappen to gain track position over Lewis, Mercedes would have given the Dutch driver the race win on a silver platter, because there were not enough laps left for the procedure to be followed and for the race to be restarted. At that point it was clear that the race would end under the Safety Car.

However, race director Michael Masi then arbitrarily decided not to follow the rules, supposedly because race control wanted the race to end under green flag conditions.

To make this happen, Masi broke two rules on the penultimate lap of the race. First he allowed only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves (those behind them were not allowed to do so), and then he restarted the race immediately upon the start of the next lap, not allowing for the required one more lap under the Safety Car.

Needless to say that this allowed Verstappen, who was now immediately behind Lewis and on fresh tyres, to easily overtake him on the final lap, a lap that according to the rules should have ended under the Safety Car.

So, the finish of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had nothing to do with luck, it was actually a case of the race director deliberately choosing not to follow the rules, which favoured one driver over the rest of the field.

Well, in an attempt to legitimize the results of the race, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner again tried to pass the situation off as mere luck.

“If you look at the season as a whole, we had a lot of bad luck and we got fortunate with the incident at the end of the race,” he told WION.

“The Safety Car was the inevitable response to that and tactically we made the right call. We pitted Max, Mercedes left Lewis out and he was then going to be very exposed at a restart.

“Of course when the race did get started – which was always going to be the intention of the race director – you know Max had to go for it.

“He had one lap to make the pass, he did it and managed to convert the championship so it was an amazing feeling, and an amazing end to an incredible year,” Horner concluded.

However, no matter how much Horner wants to convince everybody otherwise, the situation doesn’t have anything to do with luck.

As we noted before, the right tactical choice for Lewis was to remain on the track, because if he had pitted when the Safety Car came out, Max Verstappen would have remained on the track, taken P1 and, had the rules been followed, he would have won the race under the Safety Car.

In closing, the mere fact that the FIA is conducting an investigation into Masi’s decisions, shows that the finish of the Abu Dhabi GP was far from business as usual.

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