Formula 1

The 2021 Faux-rmula 1 World Championship – A legal analysis

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[Author: Ben Jose Jose, Sports Analyst at Centre for Sports Law, Economics and Policy of IFIM Law College]

Let’s Talk Sports Law S4_E1


The 2021 Formula 1 world championship has been one of the most entertaining and controversial seasons in F1 since its inception. The reigning world champion, Lewis Hamilton had seemed to run out of the dominant car that won him 6 world titles and the young lion, Max Verstappen always claimed that a competitive car would prove that he was world championship material and this season his team, Red Bull Racing, delivered a car that would fetch him his maiden title. However, this victory is far from a clean and fair one.


When two giants go toe-to-toe against each other, there is always going to be contact and when this contact happens in cars going at 200mph, it could lead to serious damage. To prevent these incidents from recurring and to ensure that the right parties are reprimanded, all teams look to the governing body- The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. The FIA has the mammoth task to ensure that they objectively take decisions and strictly adhere to the sporting regulations. Throughout the season the FIA has taken less than ideal decisions but have always found some form of justification and hasn’t largely decided the outcome of races. The FIA seems to keep switching between the two ideologies of ‘let them race’ and ‘safety above everything.’ The most controversial of decisions taken by the FIA was during the finale in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The final race of the season was the most important of both the drivers’ careers. Lewis had cut the lead which Max had on the championship and was drawing on points. Whoever won the last race would be world champion. Either a record setting 8th world title for Lewis or the maiden world title for the young Dutchman Max.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Max drew first blood by getting pole position and starting the race in Position 1. Lewis was right behind him starting in second place. As the lights went out Lewis jumped Max and took the lead. At turn 6 of the circuit, they both make contact and Lewis is forced off track but maintains his lead. This has started the FIA’s need to make decisions and they decide that there is no further investigation. The rest of the Grand Prix was in the hands of Lewis Hamilton. Redbull threw everything at him and yet he maintained a comfortable lead ahead of Max.  On lap 53 of a possible 58, Nicholas Latifi a Williams Racing driver, lost control of his car and crashed into the wall forcing the emergence of the safety car. This allowed for Max to pit and get soft tyres which would give him a racing advantage. Lewis couldn’t do the same because he would lose track position. Generally, a race with a late safety is concluded under the safety car however, the FIA decided to make certain calls that would have immense repercussions. On lap 54, the FIA announced that the lapped cars in between Max and Lewis would not be allowed to unlap themselves. This was immediately met with protests from the Red Bull pit wall. Suddenly, towards the end of lap 57 the race director, Michael Masi who takes decisions regarding the safety car, decided to change the initial instruction of not allowing lapped cars to unlap them themselves and instead allowed only the 5 cars in between Lewis and Max to unlap themselves. The safety car was also brought in on the same lap ensuring that Max was given one full lap to attack Lewis. Lap 58 comes along and Max breezes past Lewis on extremely fresh tyres and becomes the 2021 world champion. On the face of it, all viewers from casual watchers to F1 veterans could see that something about the ending sequence seemed extremely unfair. Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team felt the same and immediately launched a protest against the decisions of the FIA.

Provisions of law Violated

Under the 2021 Formula 1 Sporting Regulations, Article 48.12 states 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 also states that ‘Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap’. It is clear that both these necessary procedures have not been followed in this particular instance. Firstly, only the 5 cars that were in between Max and Lewis were allowed to overtake the safety car to unlap themselves. The other cars who were also lapped were not allowed to do the same even though the legislation clearly states that any car that has been lapped would be allowed to overtake the safety. The regulations do not allow the FIA or the race director to pick and chose which cars can unlap themselves. Secondly, the article also states that the safety car should enter back into the pits only on the following lap after the lapped cars have unlapped themselves. Which means that the safety car should have come in on lap 58 instead of lap 57. The “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” message was given on lap 57 and therefore the safety car can only come in on the following lap which is 58. The FIA after listening to the protest came to the conclusion that even though Article 48.12 may not have been fully applied, Article 48.13 overrides this article once the message “Safety Car in this lap” has been displayed, as it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap. The FIA also stated that Article 15.3 gave the race director overriding authority in terms of the use of the safety car and therefore the decision stands. Unhappy with the ruling of the FIA, the Mercedes team decided to launch a notice of intention to appeal the Stewards decision under Article 15 of the Sporting Code and Article 10 of the Judicial and Disciplinary Rules. However, the team later decided to withdraw this intention to appeal and instead decided to cooperate with the internal commission set up by the FIA.


The catastrophe of the Abu Dhabi grand prix has been a problem faced by sports fans around the world. From VAR to the FIA, the authorities that are meant to make the game fair have started to have a less than ideal influence on the game. The FIA’s decision making on the 12th of December has been immoral at best and outright illegal at worst. It is undeniable that the decisions taken that day was severely influenced by the gravity of the outcome of the race and wouldn’t have happened in any other Grand Prix. The FIA has made numerous motorsport fans lose faith in the system that was built to uphold equality and fairness. The FIA need to make justifications for their respective decisions as well as make the necessary steps to ensure that incidents like these do not take place in the coming years. The integrity of the sport and its entertainment value lies in a perfect balance. The ruling authority needs to ensure that their decisions do not get influenced by external factors and simply apply the law as it stands. Max Verstappen deserved to win the world championship but did not deserve to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. His victory was at the cost of not only Lewis Hamilton but fans of the sport around the globe.

*For any query, feedback or discussion, the author can be contacted at []

PREFERRED CITATION: Sarthak Sharma, The 2021 Faux-rmula 1 World Championship – A legal analysis, SLPRR < in a new tab)≥ January 18, 2021.

*NOTE- The opinions and views expressed in this article are that of the Author(s) and not of SLPRR- the expressed opinions do not, in any way whatsoever, reflect the views of any third party, including any institution/organisation that the Author(s) is/are currently associated to or was/were associated to in the past. Furthermore, the expressions are solely for informational and educational purposes, and must not be deemed to constitute any kind of advice. The hyperlinks in this blog might take you to webpages operated by third parties- SLPRR does not guarantee or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any information, data, opinions, advice, statements, etc. on these webpages.

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