Abu Dhabi inquiry still ongoing
The FIA will hold off on publishing publicly the inquiry and action plan into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for a few days following after failing so far to come up with a plan. At a meeting the F1 Commission made up of teams, the FIA and Liberty Media was told the analysis into the controversial events at last year’s title-deciding race was still ongoing.
The meeting was told that there may be an announcement on changes to race management later this week. However, there was agreement for F1 to hold three ‘sprint’ events this season.
Nicolas Latifi crashed with a few laps to go prompting a safety car, when the race resumed on the final lap Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton and thus claimed the title. Before that Hamilton looked on course for his eighth title.
A statement from the FIA said that its president Mohammed Ben Sulayem had “led detailed discussions” on the Abu Dhabi race at Monday’s meeting. Adding “Feedback from the Commission on matters raised will be incorporated into the president’s analysis and he will publicly present news of structural changes and an action plan in the coming days.”
The commission was told that the inquiry was not complete, it, however, is widely accepted that race director Michael Masi applied the rules incorrectly during a safety period to ensure the race did not behind the safety car. The two events under scrutiny are the timing of the restart and on dealing with lapped cars.
If Masi The crisis was not about who was champion – had Masi operated the rules correctly, there were still a series of circumstances under which Verstappen might have passed Hamilton – but about the fairness and integrity of the competition.
Hamilton was devastated by events and lost faith in the FIA as a result. It emerged last month that he would not decide whether to return to F1 this season until after he had seen the results of the FIA inquiry.
While no driver or team has gone on record, many believe that Masi’s position is untenable. Also, there is expected to be a restructuring of race control. BBC News says that it understands why two months on why the FIA has been unable to come up with concrete proposals as to what needs to change in that time.
What could it mean and conclude
The inquiry into the closing laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is expected to be published in the coming week. The events of last season’s title decider have remained under the spotlight in the two months since.
The F1 Commission, which involves the teams, the FIA and F1, is meeting in London – and it is expected that the changes the FIA recommends as a result of Abu Dhabi will be discussed. The meeting does not involve drivers, although the FIA promised an “open discussion” with all of them beforehand.
What is not clear is how much, at this stage, will be made public as any changes recommended will need to be signed off by the World Motorsport Council which next meets on the 18th March. However, given the gravity of today, there should be an update on what has been proposed.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who has recently replaced Jean Todt as FIA president, is understood to have taken a personal involvement in the matter, alongside other senior figures at the governing body.
We know the inquiry intended to speak to those involved, the stewards, Michael Masi, as well as Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams, and other teams. In its initial statement on the matter, the FIA admitted that fallout from the season’s final laps and fan backlash was “tarnishing the image of the championship”
In a statement in December, the governing body said it wanted to have “identified meaningful feedback and conclusions be made before the beginning of the 2022 season”, which begins on March 20, two days after the World Motor Sport Council meeting.
One change that is likely to happen, is a restructuring of race control taking away power from the race director. Masi’s future is unknown, but reports suggest that “The duties currently assigned to the race director will likely be shared between two individuals. There may still be a race director but he or she will be better supported and perhaps rotated in that role.”
It’s also believed that the lobbying of race control which was a recurring theme last year prompting uncomfortable viewing and listening since will be banned. Also a new set of protocols rather than exercise personal judgement calls.
Masi has been the focus of much of the criticism from the 2021 finale, and while a decision on his future has not been made yet and will likely be discussed today it would be a surprise if he remained in his current role.
It is thought that his position is untenable, even before the race, teams and drivers told BBC News that they were not happy with the consistency of decisions made by Race Control even before Abu Dhabi.
Drivers have, however, defended Masi in recent days, voicing their disappointment that all of his “very good work” has been overlooked. There is the possibility that Masi stays in the FIA, but in a different role and away from the Race Director spotlight.
We will bring you analysis and reaction over the coming days, as soon as the report is published
F1 agrees three sprint races
The FIA has confirmed that only three sprint events will be held in 2022, after the original plan called for six. In addition as a response to feedback from both drivers and fans pole position will now be officially awarded to the fastest driver in Friday qualifying, instead of the sprint event winner.
The points structure for the sprint will also change, with points now being awarded to the top eight. The three races where the sprint will take place will be the Emilia Romagna, Austrian and Sao Paulo, which means that the events planned for Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands have been dropped.
The sticking point over the last few months has been the level of compensation for accident damage, with some teams in effect pushing for an extension to the cost cap. A reduction from six to three events emerged as a compromise from the debate, with no changes in the 2021 financial arrangements.
Last week, when the start time information was published the sprint weren’t included because the details haven’t been agreed.
The change in the points allocation is significant and puts a much bigger premium on a good performance on Saturday. Instead of the previous 3-2-1 allocation for the top three, points will be awarded based on 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
The FIA noted in a statement: “Following a review of the three sprint events that took place in 2021 and a recognition by all that the format created positive benefits for the sport, three sprint events were proposed for 2022, acknowledging this as a sensible number in light of the pressures already on the teams for this season with the introduction of major changes to the regulations.
“The Commission unanimously approved the three sprint events for the coming season, incorporating a number of updates to the format based on the feedback of fans, media and teams.”
Point system overhauled following Spa washout
The FIA also announced an overhaul of the way points will be awarded for shortened races following the fallout from last year’s Belgian Grand Prix washout.
While the sports focus has been over the last two months the fallout from Spa last year has slipped off the agenda. The race was affected by heavy and persistent rain at Spa-Francorchamps last August, resulting in race start delays before it was officially begun with formation laps behind the safety car.
Following the laps behind the safety car the race was abandoned as conditions didn’t improve enough, however, the rules allowed half points to be awarded. The regulation wording has been changed to say ‘racing laps’ meaning without a safety car or virtual safety car would need to be completed.
Under the new regulations, last years race would have seen no points have been awarded.
The points rules have been broken down further, with the top five receiving points if more than two laps are completed by less than 25% of the scheduled race distance is completed.
If the race leader has completed between 25%-50% of the scheduled race distance, the top nine receive points, while if the race leader has completed between 50%-75% of the scheduled race distance, the top ten receive points.
Mercedes demonstrating “motivation and fire” – Russell
George Russell says that Mercedes is demonstrating “motivation and fire” to bounce back after Lewis Hamilton’s controversial title defeat in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Englishman added that his focus this year will be on improving his own and his car performances, while setting himself “micro targets” along the way.
Since joining the team as a race driver at the Abu Dhabi Test, Russell has spent a lot of time at Mercedes base in Brackley, getting to know the team and on the simulator getting to the new car. Speaking in a video posted on the team’s social media channels, Russell said, “Because I spent so much time with the team prior to joining Williams in Formula 1 as a junior driver, I feel like I know everybody so well already.
“So we were just straight to business on the important bits and bobs, to understand the new car, to understand the challenges, and to try and prepare as best as possible for the season ahead. And I think following the conclusion of last year, there’s so much motivation and fire within the whole factory to bounce back.”
Russell says that the 2022 car is still unknown for everyone, so he has to look at his own performance with him aiming to get the maximum for himself and the team. He thinks that the year is going to be interesting in terms of development, believing that is where the performance is still unknown.
Adding “My hope for 2022 is to really get the maximum for myself and the team around me. I think it’s going to be such an interesting year of development. And I think that’s truly where all the performance is going to be this year. But in terms of a result, I truly don’t believe you can put a value or target on that, because nobody knows where they’re going to be when they reach the first race.”
Alpha Tauri unveils AT03
Alpha Tauri unveiled a tweaked livery as it released video renderings of its 2022 car the AT03 on Monday. The new car will not be properly seen in public until next week’s first pre-season test at Barcelona, with the team only offering a concept version in a promotional video that was closely tied in with the AlphaTauri fashion brand.
The video only showed limited details of the car shown in the video were limited, they did show off the tweaked new blue-and-white colour scheme, plus an aggressive undercut sidepod solution. The team are going into the new season following its most successful season to date when it finished sixth in the constructors.
Gasly said he was eager to try out the new AT03, saying, “This year sees a huge change to the car as, due to the new regulations, the look and design is completely different, so the team has had to start from a clean sheet of paper.”
“We won’t know the true performance of the AT03 until we get it out on track at pre-season testing in Barcelona but so far, I think it looks great and I am very excited to get this new season started.”
Team principal Franz Tost hoped that the team’s efforts on its 2022 car would pay off with even better form in the season ahead. He said “It is a completely new era for F1 and we hope that this package will be very strong, following last year’s success. Once again, we have worked closely with AlphaTauri to launch our new car and I think we’ve managed to deliver something very special.”
Alpha Tauri expects budget cap to close gap
Alpha Tauri team principal Franz Tost expects the budget cap to close up the field this season, but he anticipates an even bigger impact to be seen in 2023. This year the cap has been reduced by a further $5 million which brings the cap down to $140m,
Tost says that the bigger teams will still reap the benefits from having been able to use greater R&D resources in the first part of last year when designing their 2022 models, and they were given extra time to downsize staffing. Despite that, he still believes there will be an impact.
He told Motorsport.com, I think that the cost cap will have an effect because this year it’s been brought down by a further five million. It should make a difference, but as the big teams were able to benefit from a larger number of people until summer last year, they of course had an advantage.”
“They were able to do a lot more research and development work, especially using simulation tools, and could try several different design philosophies to find the best solution for them.” This leads Tost to believe while the top teams will still have the advantage, the gaps should be smaller and all of the cars are expected to be much closer together.
Next year the cap limit drops a further $5m to $135m, and Tost believes that’s when it will really start to have an impact as the bigger teams are squeezed. He believes at that point no team will have an advantage, as they will need to stay inside the cap, helping to close the gap.
AlphaTauri technical director Jody Egginton agreed the cap will help the smaller teams, especially as the previous big spenders take time to learn where best to deploy their now limited resources.
Adding “I think we can expect a certain amount of levelling up, to use the phrase of the moment! I think the cost cap will take a little bit of time to be fully absorbed into what teams are doing, so there are for sure some benefits in there for teams who, pre-cost cap, did not have access to the budgets of the bigger teams.”
Tsunoda believes eighteen-inch tyres will give him advantage
Yuki Tsunoda believes his F2 experience with the eighteen-inch tyres could give him an advantage. As part of the move towards ground effect cars Pirelli has moved from thirteen-inch to eighteen-inch tyres, which it believes is closer to road cars.
F2 made the switch to the eighteen-inch tyres in 2020, when the Japanese driver had had an impressive rookie campaign. He believes what he learned could put him in good stead for the challenges ahead.
Having driven the F1 2022 car in the simulator, and taken part in last year’s post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test, Tsunoda thinks that the experience of the new tyres is similar to what he faced in F2.
he explained to Motorsport.com, “The car generally feels a lot sharper, with sharper movement and over a long run, the bigger wheels give you a completely different feeling to that on the old 13-inch tyres.”
“I’ve experienced this feeling before because when I raced in Formula Two we made the same switch to 18 inches and I felt the same difference there. It felt like a similar step. But it’s not just the tyres that change this year, the new car means there are lots of changes for 2022 to learn about and adapt to.”
Tsunoda goes into his second season after a roller-coaster rookie season, while he impressed in the opening race in Bahrain, his confidence was then knocked by crashes and accidents. He then turned things around towards the end of last year with his best finish being fourth in Abu Dhabi.
That result has made him optimistic about the season ahead, even though he thinks there will be even more pressure on him to perform. Saying, “I’m really looking forward to racing again. I feel I have a much better understanding of what I have to do than I did a year ago.”
“I know how to prepare in order to perform well. I know what my weak points are, I have all of my experience from last year to build on and I have been working hard to be ready. Last year, if anything unexpected or unusual happened, I could not adapt quick enough to deal with the situation, which is why I struggled in a lot of races.”