On Thursday, the FIA outlined the next steps for the detailed analysis it initially announced on December 15, three days after the conclusion to the 2021 F1 season was marred by controversy when Lewis Hamilton lost the world title to Max Verstappen following a contentious Safety Car restart. 

The FIA’s review process finally begun in earnest this week. The next stage will see separate meetings held with the teams and drivers in the coming weeks to get their input, before the findings are presented to the F1 Commission in February. 

Final decisions will subsequently be announced on the eve of the new season on March 18.

Who are the key figures involved? 

The stakes are high for the FIA and new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has taken a personal involvement in the matter, which he has treated with urgency since assuming office last month as Jean Todt’s successor at the head of world motorsport. 

Peter Bayer, the FIA’s secretary general of motorsport and recently-appointed single-seater director, has been entrusted with heading up the review process. 

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Austrian-born Bayer assumed his FIA role in 2017 and has been involved in a wide range of F1 matters, including the overhaul to the technical regulations for the upcoming 2022 campaign. 

Bayer has been involved in other high-profile cases that have occurred during a grand prix, including a Safety Car-related incident when he was on the FIA panel which reviewed the collision that occurred between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Many feel significant action is needed in the wake of the Abu Dhabi fallout, and Bayer has the power and influence to push for such changes. 

What could change?

The FIA’s statement noted that Ben Sulayem has launched a consultation with all F1 teams on “various issues” including the events of the final laps in Abu Dhabi. 

It also stated that the “use of the Safety Car” will be discussed as an item on the agenda of the Sporting Advisory Committee when it meets next week (January 19).

The handling of the late Safety Car in Abu Dhabi ultimately influenced the outcome of the 2021 world championship and a dedicated meeting about the matter hints that the rules surrounding its deployment could change. 

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FIA race director Michael Masi only allowed five of the eight lapped cars (the ones separating title contenders Hamilton and Verstappen) to unlap themselves in a hurried bid to ensure the race finished under green flag conditions. 

This contravened the rule that states the Safety Car must come into the pits at the end of the following lap. If that regulation had been followed, the race would have ended behind the Safety Car and Hamilton would have been crowned world champion. 

Could a return to a closed pit lane following the deployment of the Safety Car - like in the refuelling days - be on the cards? This would remove an element of random jeopardy and also limit strategic plays such as the one that allowed Red Bull to gain a crucial advantage over Hamilton by calling Verstappen in for fresh tyres. 

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In the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi GP, many pointed out that an immediate red flag should have been flown when Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams to set up a standing restart and ensure a green-flag finish. This would have enabled all the drivers to change tyres and resume on the same lap, while maintaining the excitement factor. Might this be a fairer scenario that is considered for the future? 

Meanwhile, an anticipated change to the rules is set to prevent team principals from being allowed to contact the race director during a grand prix, following concerns that lobbying is having an influence on the decisions being taken. 

Ben Sulayem has also asked Bayer for proposals to “review and optimise” the FIA’s F1 structure, indicating that revisions could be made in time for the 2022 season. 

One thing that definitely will not change, however, is the outcome of the 2021 world championship. 

Will Masi survive? 

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Masi has faced intense scrutiny and heavy criticism for not applying the rules correctly in two different ways during the late Safety Car period. 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff accused Masi of “robbing” Hamilton of a deserved record-breaking eighth world title through his “freestyle” decision-making. 

Masi’s removal from the FIA’s updated organisational chart for 2022 has prompted further speculation about his future after a BBC report earlier this week claimed that Mercedes had agreed to drop its appeal on the condition that Masi was sacked. The reigning world champions have denied that such a deal exists. 

While there appears to be a growing consensus that Masi cannot continue in his position, the FIA faces a difficult dilemma considering there is no obvious candidate to replace him and the new season is just around the corner. 

It remains to be seen who the race director will be at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20. 

What does it mean for Hamilton’s future?

According to the same BBC report, Hamilton has lost trust in the governing body and his future hinges on the result of the FIA’s investigation. 

Hamilton claimed the Abu Dhabi GP had been “manipulated” at the end of the race in a radio message that was not broadcast at the time. 

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The seven-time world campion was described by Wolff as being “disillusioned” by what happened in the season finale and he has remained silent ever since. Hamilton has not spoken publicly about the matter, nor has he posted on any of his social media accounts in over a month.

The FIA’s updated timeline could be viewed as something of a retaliation to the pressure seemingly being applied by the Mercedes camp, given that Hamilton would need to make a decision on whether to return prior to the start of pre-season testing on 23-25 February, around a month before the findings are published. 

But Hamilton will be updated on how the situation is unfolding long before then as the FIA is planning to involve the drivers and teams in the process when the F1 Commission meets at the start of next month. 

Talk of Hamilton quitting F1 has grown louder this week and his future, for the time being at least, is uncertain.