The conclusion to an extraordinary F1 season ended in dramatic and controversial circumstances after Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the Abu Dhabi finale to win both the race and the world championship following a late safety car restart. 

Mercedes lodged two protests with the FIA after the race, one relating to how the restart was handled and one over an alleged overtake made by Verstappen on Hamilton while the field was behind the safety car. 

But following lengthy deliberations and meetings, the FIA threw both of Mercedes’ protests out. 

The decision not to uphold Mercedes’ protests means that the result of the Abu Dhabi GP stands and confirms Verstappen’s first world title success. 

Why did Mercedes appeal? 

Mercedes argued that FIA race director Michael Masi’s decision to allow only some of the lapped cars to unlap themselves before restarting the race with just one lap to go. 

The stewards’ explained that Mercedes had claimed there had been a breach of Article 48.12 of the regulations which state that “any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car” and “once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.”

Mercedes believe that Hamilton would have won the race and a record-breaking eighth world championship had the protocol been followed. 

After the chequered flag, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was heard pleading with Masi for an amendment of the race result to go back to the previous lap.

What did the stewards say? 

Race Director’s Evidence:

The race director stated that the purpose of article 48.12 was to remove those lapped cars that would “interfere” in the racing between the leaders and that in his view article 48.13 was the one that applied in this case.

The race director also stated that it had long been agreed by all the teams that where possible it was highly desirable for the race to end in a “green” condition (i.e. not under a Safety Car).

Conclusions of the Stewards:

The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible.

Having considered the various statements made by the parties the Stewards determine the following:

That article 15.3 allows the race director to control the use of the safety car, which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal.

That although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to the pits at the end of the following lap, article 48.13 overrides that and once the message “Safety Car in this lap” has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap.

That notwithstanding Mercedes’ request that the stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the Stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate.

Accordingly, the protest is dismissed. The protest deposit is not refunded.

Mercedes has confirmed it has lodged an intention to appeal the decision.