GUEST COLUMN: It’s Not Too Late To Right the Abu Dhabi Wrong

© Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

By Homayune Ghaussi

I recently wrote about how I fell in love with F1. How last year I couldn’t wait for race weekends. How like a child first learning of something old and thinking it’s new, I went around telling everyone about how great F1 racing is and how it’s worthy of their time.

And how the end of the season last year broke that new found love affair.  After Abu Dhabi, I didn’t know, and still don’t know, if I’d invest my time and interest in F1 again. I’m not alone.

From the bit of F1 I still see on social media, it seems new car reveals have started and there is talk about what the FIA may do about last year’s ending. I can imagine, even though I don’t feel it, the excitement that would surround the start of the new season. My first time seeing car reveals. My first time reading about and watching videos of new cars being tested. Another level of the fan experience that just isn’t doing it for me because Abu Dhabi still hangs in the air.

But it’s not too late.

As Lewis Hamilton reappears on social media and the excitement is building for his likely return, the FIA can take some minimal steps to keep F1 a sport and keep its fan base growing.

First, they must acknowledge what we all know about the ending. We really can’t get to a semblance of normality without the FIA first acknowledging that what happened at the end of the season was anything but normal. As many pundits and even some drivers have admitted, the rules seem to have been manipulated and the result would have been different but for the race director’s decision in the last lap. The longer the FIA ignores this basic truth about the season ending, the more there’s fodder for conspiracy theories and the less there is interest in watching F1 going forward.

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Second, there is no need to change the results of last season to make meaningful changes going forward. Verstappen did not crash into someone or otherwise violate a rule to secure a win. He took advantage of what the race director put, or more accurately removed, in front of him and he passed the checkered flag first.

At the same time, Lewis did everything in his power and the championship was in-hand before it was taken from him. But the fact remains that Mercedes decided to abandon its appeal. And the appeal was the means of changing the result. The rules for changing the result have been followed and the result was final when Mercedes ended its appeal. To right it’s wrong, the FIA doesn’t need to change the results now.

Finally, to regain the fans’ trust in the races being a sport and not just filming opportunities for a reality show, systemic changes are needed to assure it won’t happen again. Some have suggested removing teams’ ability to lobby the race director during the race (though the question arises about a race director’s capability to impartially direct a race if he can so easily be persuaded to alter the race by one team’s requests). This could be a simple start. Let the teams challenge questionable decisions after, when there is time to examine the circumstances rather than incentivizing teams to influence results during the race in the heat of the moment.

To the extent the FIA claims last year’s result is due to the rules being ambiguous, make them clear. Make them simple. Make them so there isn’t a question next time.

And to the extent the FIA wants to avoid conspiracy theories about the ending last year, be transparent. Release the results of the investigation and let everyone see what happened and why. Silence invites speculation and feeds theories.

After Abu Dhabi, many fans questioned whether they’d continue to be fans. And after Lewis Hamilton disappeared from the public, many wondered about his return. But most, like me, assumed he would likely return. He is a champion through and through and champions don’t give up. Hamilton has made it clear that he sees his racing as being about much more than just himself. Every time he gets into that F1 seat, he not only takes his life and his record in his own hands, he has the livelihoods and blood, sweat, and tears of every team member riding shotgun with him. The team and the sport wouldn’t be the same without him and he won’t let them down.

Now let’s hope the FIA doesn’t let us down. Again. And then maybe the fan base will return and continue to grow.

Homayune Ghaussi is a car enthusiast, lawyer and sports fan.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of SilverArrows.Net.

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