The old and new problems that got added to another wacky F1 title decider RaceFans

The controversial conclusion to the 2021 Formula 1 season was something no one involved in running the championship should want to see repeated.

The title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was essentially decided by the FIA ​​F1 race director not following the series’ own regulations. A year-long competition undermined by a single, incomprehensible and clearly unregulated decision.

It was never likely that any particular situation would happen again this year, for the simple reason that Verstappen has long been so far ahead that his second title win was a foregone conclusion for weeks. No one could argue that Sunday’s events had diminished his title claim.

Yet a similar sense of misunderstanding greeted some moments from yesterday’s often confusing title decider. The teams were confused over fundamental questions about how the race would unfold, such as how points would be awarded and even if the race was over. Meanwhile, drivers were livid at a shocking breach of safety standards.

This added to another championship decider failing to show F1 at its best.

Too wet to run

The first boot was quickly abandoned

The race started on time but the circuit was wet. Within minutes, one car was in the barrier, another was pulled off the track, a third rolled over with a billboard blocking the view ahead and red flags were out. Drivers at the back of the field complained that visibility was non-existent.

Inevitably, this led many to wonder if the initial start should have happened. Racing in the rain is a dilemma that F1 often faces and it’s not an easy decision to make. Later, during the ensuing suspension, Race Control once attempted to restart the procedure which had to be abandoned when conditions did not improve as expected.

However, the decision to use a standing start in the first place should be questioned. F1 has the option of initiating a procedure behind the safety car, which requires all drivers to use high-tread wet weather tires instead of intermediates, which are less effective at shedding water. It was finally done for the reboot, which went through successfully.

The decision not to stage a standing restart is often unpopular, as riders such as Carlos Sainz Jnr have acknowledged. But on this occasion, maybe it was the right choice.

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Crane on track

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Suzuka, 2022
Gasly was livid after encountering a crane on the track

Undoubtedly, the most serious fact and the one that irritated the drivers the most was the presence of recovery vehicles on the track during the Safety Car period following the initial start. Several drivers noted this and voiced their concerns at the time, including Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez, Zhou Guanyu and Nicholas Latifi.

But the most shocked driver was Pierre Gasly. While the others were part of the safety car queue, Gasly had stopped in the pits and was driving faster to catch them. When he saw a crane appear unexpectedly in the dark without prior warning, he was horrified – recalling the circumstances in which Jules Bianchi suffered fatal injuries when he hit such a vehicle on the same track eight years ago earlier.

Yesterday, the conditions and the circumstances were more or less the same: the track was wet and getting wetter, and the drivers other than Gasly were driving with intermediate tires that were increasingly unsuitable for the conditions. The race was red-flagged due to deteriorating conditions when Gasly approached the crane and a marshal who was pushing aside Sainz’s damaged Ferrari. The crane was parked outside a right-hand bend where it could easily be hit by a spinning car.

Gasly was then penalized for speeding under the red flag – not when he overtook the crane. Following the outcry from the drivers, the FIA ​​said it would “review” why the vehicle was present on the side of the track. However, he noted “it is normal practice to recover cars under safety car and red flag conditions”. Drivers will no doubt want to know how the FIA ​​considers that, in line with its conclusion eight years ago that “it is imperative to prevent a car from hitting [a] crane.”

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Out of time

F1 rules left little time to finish the race once it finally started

When conditions finally improved enough for the race to resume, the rules only allowed 40 minutes for it to be over. As a result, only 28 of the planned 53 laps were raced. To what extent was F1 a victim of the conditions, and to what extent was the lack of racing a consequence of the regulations?

In 2012, a new rule was introduced stating that races must end within a certain amount of time after they start. This was initially set at four hours, then reduced to three last year. This has reduced the window of time in which a race can take place, putting F1 at the mercy of conditions on rainy days like yesterday.

In the case of Sunday’s race, the scheduled start time was only three and a half hours before sunset, so postponing the race further was not an option. But earlier in the day the conditions were more favorable and a full race could have taken place if it had been scheduled earlier.

F1 has already unnecessarily shortened a race this year due to this questionable rule. Japan’s passionate fans, who many in F1 are quick to praise for their dedication to the sport, certainly deserve the chance to see a race in full, especially after a three-year wait.

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Unexpected checkered flag

Some teams didn’t immediately realize the race was over

The three-hour delay also surprised teams in other ways.

A week earlier in Singapore, the race ended when the maximum race duration of two hours was reached. As per the rules, the checkered flag was shown on the lap after the race leader reached the two hour mark.

But the three-hour limit appeared to be handled differently than it had been at the Monaco Grand Prix earlier in the season, surprising some teams who expected the race to continue for another lap. Some drivers continued to race for a half lap and had to be persuaded by their teams that the race was well and truly over.

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Penalty appeal

Leclerc did not get around the chicane on his last lap

Charles Leclerc’s five-second post-race penalty for running off the track and taking an advantage proved to be the decisive moment that won Verstappen the title. It wasn’t a particularly controversial decision – even Leclerc admitted it was deserved. The stewards wasted no time in issuing the penalty, although it did produce an inconsistency which did not impress Ferrari after their long wait to learn of Sergio Perez’s post-race penalty in similar circumstances to Singapore.

Post-race penalties are an inevitable part of motorsport. But this one could have been avoided. Had there been a natural obstacle like a gravel trap, Leclerc might not have been able to gain an advantage in the first place. At chicanes at other circuits, drivers are given specific instructions on how to join the racing line in a time-wasting way – but there was no such arrangement at this weekend corner. end last.

F1 has introduced more consistent monitoring of track limits this year which overall has been a positive step, but as this case shows there is still work to be done to prevent drivers from taking advantage cutting corners.

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Confusion of points

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2022
Verstappen didn’t immediately believe he had won the championship

Leclerc’s penalty was significant as it ended up deciding the championship. However, this was not widely realized at first due to confusion over the point system applied.

The FIA ​​has introduced a new points system for shortened races after F1 came under fire last year for its handling of the abandoned Belgian Grand Prix, where it awarded points for a race that officially consisted of a single lap behind the safety car. As 52% of the race distance was covered in Japan, it appeared that the FIA’s ‘Column 3’ points system, used when 50-75% of a grand prix is ​​covered, would apply.

Under ‘column 3’ points, Verstappen would have been one point away from claiming the title by winning the race with Leclerc in third. Red Bull thought this was the situation and during the final laps of the race considered a pit stop for Verstappen to give him a chance to set the fastest lap and claim the bonus point that would make him the champion .

But to the surprise of Red Bull, as well as their rival teams and many spectators, the FIA ​​decided to award full points for the race. This ran counter to the post-Spa rules change, but was supported by a clause in the regulations which stated that the reduced points would only be awarded if the race “is suspended…and cannot be resumed”, rather than to finish on time. limit.

While many of the issues F1 faced in its season finale were familiar, this one at least was new. But as was the case last year, when F1 should have celebrated its last world champion, the focus was more on the rules.

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