Formula 1's ongoing controversy and uncertainty one month on from the title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP
What stage is the FIA’s investigation into the contentious finish to the 2021 season at? Who is leading the process? When do they want it concluded? Will Michael Masi still be in place for 2022? And what does it all mean for Lewis Hamilton’s F1 future?
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/01/22 5:28pm
What's the state of play with the FIA's Abu Dhabi review?
Sky Sports revealed on Wednesday how the situation was moving forward in regards to the FIA's investigation into the events of the Abu Dhabi season finale last month.
F1's governing body announced on December 15, three days after the now-notorious conclusion to 2021's final race, that it was initiating an "analysis and clarification exercise" into what happened, with the aim of learning lessons for 2022.
The stewards submitted their report in the week after the title-deciding race and it was this week, from Monday, that the formal investigative stage of the inquiry began.
- FIA timeline for Abu Dhabi GP inquiry revealed
- Lewis Hamilton's Formula 1 future remains unclear
- The race dates and driver line-ups for 2022
Initiating the review process was one of former president Jean Todt's final acts in office, the Frenchman stepping down on December 17 after 12 years in the role.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, a former multiple Middle East rally champion, was elected in Todt's place. With the festive period now over, the fallout from Abu Dhabi and the ongoing uncertainty around Hamilton's future are clearly the highest-profile items in his early 2022 in-tray.
"He has made it a matter of urgency that this gets sorted out," reported Craig Slater of Ben Sulayem. "He wants to get this done properly, as soon as it can be done."
February 3 - the date of the year's first World Motor Sport Council meeting - is being targeted as the latest point at which the review will be completed and findings/recommendations presented.
What do we know about the process?
Ben Sulayem himself is understood to be taking a personal involvement in the matter, alongside other senior figures at the governing body.
Chief among them is Peter Bayer, who is leading the investigation. Bayer is the FIA's secretary general of motor sport, who is now also overseeing single-seater matters at the governing body.
The FIA has said the process will be 'thorough, objective and transparent'.
Bayer was namechecked by Toto Wolff when the Mercedes boss said in his news conference in the days after the race that he had received assurances that changes would be made after Abu Dhabi.
The FIA had already said the review would feature input from teams and drivers. The inquiry team is seeking to speak to those who had central roles in the final race, including race director Michael Masi, the stewards, and key team representatives. They will inevitably want to speak to Hamilton too, among other drivers.
What is the review intended to achieve?
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", although also suggested the events and subsequent arguments had also "generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans".
The governing body said it wanted to have "identified meaningful feedback and conclusions be made before the beginning of the 2022 season", which begins in March.
Speaking at an appearance at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia at the start of the month, Ben Sulayem said: "The integrity of the FIA, it is my job and duty to protect it, but it doesn't mean that we do not look into our regulations, and if there is any improvement [to make], we will.
"I said in my first press conference, this is not the book of God. This is written by humans. It can be improved and changed by humans. So that's it."
What's the latest on Masi's future?
The FIA's F1 race director has remained in the eye of the storm over his handling of the late-race Safety Car. His future in one of the sport's leading roles had continued to be placed under intense scrutiny as a result.
Sky Sports has learned several teams expressed a lack of confidence in the Australian during the 2021 season, when there was criticism and controversy over the consistency of decisions made by Race Control even before Abu Dhabi.
"Is it the case now that his position is untenable?" pondered Slater. "Would announcing his departure of the role form race director perhaps by the FIA at least signal a fresh start in that sense?
"He's a good man, he's a very kind man, I enjoyed dealing with him on a personal basis myself, but is there now too much noise around his position?"
Mercedes have denied that any quid-pro-quo deals have been struck. Speaking in his news conference before Christmas, Wolff said that transparency was paramount in the post-Abu Dhabi investigation: "In the day and age of transparency such decisions cannot be made anymore in backroom deals.
"Why I am optimistic is that most stakeholders in the sport will share my frustration on the decisions that have been made throughout the year. Everyone who is a racer, you guys, us, knows what happened. So nevertheless, I have confidence because we will all be pulling on the same rope in the same direction. The teams, and I have had feedback from the teams, and from the drivers."
What do Mercedes want to happen with the review?
Angered, stunned and dismayed by the sequence of events which led to Hamilton losing the world title to Max Verstappen on the season's final lap, Mercedes initially protested the result of the race to the stewards
That challenge was dismissed, leading to Mercedes then lodging an intention to take the case to the FIA's International Court of Appeal. They ultimately decided not to proceed down that route, but only after talks with the FIA and the promise from the governing body that it would initiate a full review into what happened.
That didn't however mean that the team's feeling of injustice had lessened in any way.
Describing himself and Hamilton as feeling "disillusioned" about what had occurred, Wolff said that a "freestyle reading of the rules" by Masi around the use of the Safety Car had "robbed" Hamilton of the title.
Mercedes made very clear that the onus was now on the FIA to act and make tangible changes.
"We will hold them accountable for the actions because we cannot continue in a sport that is meant to be sport followed by entertainment and not the other way around," said Wolff.
"That we are held ransom by ad-hoc decisions committed in every field, be it technical or sporting, and therefore there needs to be clear measures in place before the start of the season so every driver, every team and the fans understand what is on and what is not on."
What does it mean for Hamilton?
Given Mercedes made clear that they had been aligned with their star driver every step of the way on their approach to the immediate days after Abu Dhabi, it can be assumed that remains the case one month on as team and star driver await a satisfactory outcome from the FIA's investigation.
Indeed as reported by Craig Slater on Sky Sports News on Monday, it is understood that the seven-time champion's F1 future remains unclear six weeks before winter testing and that the outcome of the FIA's inquiry is central to its resolution.
The seven-time world champion has not conducted any interviews or posted via social media since speaking in the immediate aftermath of the race before the podium.
Indeed, his only comment on the events of the final laps came out through on-board radio channels, when he said "this has been manipulated" as he rounded the race's final corners after being overtaken by Verstappen, who was on fresher tyres.
"It's been put to me like this: the longer this drags on then the worse the Lewis Hamilton situation is," said Slater.
Hamilton, who chose not to attend the FIA's end-of-season awards gala, may no longer be the reigning world champion but he remains F1's biggest name and draw. Having signed a new two-year Mercedes contract last summer and spoken enthusiastically about the sport's new-look cars for this year, the fact that his return is not yet confirmed appears to underline his sense of understandable dismay about how Abu Dhabi unfolded.
Although still hypothetical at this stage, Mercedes would almost certainly have to look at drivers under contract at rivals were they suddenly required to source a replacement for the sport's most successful ever driver.
The 23-year-old George Russell has arrived in place of Valtteri Bottas in the other seat and the first pictures of the Briton, who has raced at Williams for three seasons, in team kit were released on Mercedes' social media channels this week.
Pre-season testing begins in Barcelona on February 23, with F1's all-new 2022 cars set to be launched by teams in the fortnight before then. No launch dates have yet been confirmed.