Lewis Hamilton damningly observed how the safety car ending of the Italian Grand Prix stood in stark contrast to the conclusion to last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi, where he was denied an eighth title in controversial circumstances.
Max Verstappen won in Monza, the race finishing behind a safety car deployed five laps from the end when Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren came to a halt on track. It took time to remove and there were too few laps then remaining for the field to catch the leader Verstappen and resume racing.
In Abu Dhabi last year under a similar late safety car the FIA race director, Michael Masi, improvised around the rules to ensure there was a final lap of racing, where Hamilton fell to Verstappen who was on fresh tyres. Masi was dismissed by the FIA whose report into what happened cited “human error”.
Hamilton could not help but recall Abu Dhabi. “It always brings memories back,” he said. “That is the rule that it should be, right? So only one time, in the history of the sport that they haven’t done the rule.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, was equally barbed. “This time, they followed the rules,” he said. “There are rules and whether I’m Abu Dhabi traumatised or not, these rules have been followed to the dot today.”
However the FIA also came under fire. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was denied a final charge at Verstappen had racing resumed and his team principal, Mattia Binotto, was scathing in his assessment of what had happened.
“Today we had all the conditions to have a restart of the race, I don’t know why they waited so long,” he said. “The FIA has been caught sleeping, maybe they are not yet ready to deal with these situations.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, was also critical. “We don’t want to win a race under a safety car,” he said. “That’s something that we’ve talked about for many, many years, that they should finish racing. There was enough time to get that race going.”
Wolff, however, with Abu Dhabi still fresh in the mind, was adamant that the FIA could never improvise again. “If one is not happy with the regulations, and you want to have a big bang show and two laps of racing and mayhem, I’m absolutely up for it,” he said. “But then we need to change the regulations.”
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