Mercedes curses the restart of the Abu Dhabi GP, Red Bull welcomes it. Is there a compromise between the two extremes? Maybe a restart like in Baku. It would have been fairer for Lewis Hamilton, but race control would have had to break the rules for that too.
It was a decision of great importance. The restart at the Abu Dhabi GP one lap before the end cost Lewis Hamilton the eighth world title and allowed Max Verstappen the first. Without the safety car, the crown would have gone to Hamilton. Even without a restart. The release of the race put the Englishman in an almost hopeless position. He had to defend himself against Verstappen with almost fresh soft soles on ancient hard tires.
Many felt the end of this season was unfair. Or staged. Or simply wrong in terms of regulation. Others applaud. The restart gave us an incredible final lap. The thrill couldn't be beat. It's always better than crossing the finish line in single file behind the safety car.
Race director can only lose
Those directly involved should not be taken seriously when it comes to the question of whether it was a worthy conclusion on the track. Mercedes and Red Bull only see the incident through their own glasses. Had Hamilton remained in the lead, Mercedes would not have protested. If the safety car had stayed out until the end, Red Bull would have done just that. Probably with the same arguments as Mercedes. You can use it for both perspectives.
Just as Mercedes is of the opinion that the rules were partially ignored in the interest of maximum excitement, Red Bull would have accused the race directors and the stewards of the race in the opposite case of making a friendly decision towards Mercedes. Michael Masi certainly hasn't cut a happy figure in the last two races, but he couldn't win in that matter. Because Red Bull had set the mood in advance and complained bitterly about every slap in the face for Verstappen.
Apart from the team bosses and sports directors, who are constantly listening to Masi, there is also the unspoken wish of the rights holders that their product sells as well as possible. And it doesn't do that with a finish behind the safety car. It doesn't matter whether it's the first or last race. It was no different with Bernie Ecclestone. Given a choice, Bernie chose the show. And his then race director, Charlie Whiting, knew that too. He just made it look better. Whiting's word was law. He had an authority that probably no one else will ever match.
Bad timing for Latifi crash
Let's put it this way: The timing of Nicholas Latifi's accident was extremely unfortunate. Too early to finish the race under yellow without discussion. Too late to let it go by the usual procedure.On average, safety car phases with clean-up work last four to five laps. So exactly the time that was left. If the crash had happened two laps earlier, the result would have been the same. Just without discussion.
Luckily nobody questioned the use of the safety car. It was mandatory with the wrecked Williams in the line of fire. If only one wrecked racing car had been parked at the edge of the track, the race management would have had to be questioned. It would then have looked like an artificial suspense maker. The early end of neutralization has another dimension. There was still a chance for Hamilton to win. Even if she was severely diminished.
A lot was at stake for Mercedes. Hence the protest. What was surprising, however, was that McLaren, Aston Martin and Haas kept their feet still. They had a much more direct damage than Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher were not allowed to lap back and were thus legally prevented by the race control from achieving a better result. The suggestion that waving the three past wouldn't have changed anything is realistic but irrelevant. Who knows what can happen on such a crazy final lap? It's better to drive on the same lap as the leader. The same applies to Carlos Sainz, who had Ricciardo and Stroll under his nose when he restarted and therefore lost contact with Verstappen.
Does Latifi's accident justify the red flag?
In fact, there would have been a way to safely clear the scene of the accident and still offer an exciting finale on the track. Just like it was practiced in Baku. The race was stopped with the red flag and restarted standing for two remaining laps. Since all drivers are allowed to change tires during the break, there would have been an equality of arms between Hamilton and Verstappen. And it would have been two hot rounds.
Why didn't Masi choose it? Probably because he would have had to interpret some of the rules very generously. The race director cannot simply show the red flag. Paragraph 50.1 of the Sporting Regulations states: "If participants or helpers would be exposed to immediate danger from the cars on the track, even behind a safety car, the race director can classify the track conditions as unsafe and interrupt the race."
That wasn't necessarily the case with Latifi's accident. The Williams was in a relatively slow spot. But neither did Mick Schumacher a week earlier in Jeddah, and that's when Masi and his national race director raised the red flag. Mercedes was upset because the interruption gave Verstappen a free pit stop and it turned out afterwards that the supposedly damaged Tecpro barrier didn't have to be repaired at all, just put back in the right place.
Internally, the teams are instructed to always show the demolition flag if the repair work threatens to take longer than ten minutes. Just like in Baku, where there was a 35-minute break. Safety isn't the only factor here. You don't want to expect the spectators to do too many laps at a slow pace. In Abu Dhabi, the break between the SC signal and the restart lasted almost exactly ten minutes. One would therefore have had the opportunity to justify a red flag with the length of the clean-up work. Bet there would have been protests there too. Depending on the outcome of the race.