Lewis Hamilton admitted the ending to Sunday’s Italian GP brought back memories of his Abu Dhabi title decider against Max Verstappen, with the Mercedes driver on this occasion agreeing with the Safety Car application.
The 2022 Italian GP was similar to the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP in that there was a Safety Car called with few laps remaining.
At Monza, however, the race finished behind the Safety Car – with Max Verstappen beating Charles Leclerc – while in Abu Dhabi, the race was incorrectly restarted with one lap remaining.
Verstappen would overtake Hamilton, on older tyres, on that final lap, claiming a remarkable world championship.
Hamilton, who finished fifth on Sunday, told Sky in Italy that he would have “loved to fight the guys behind me” if given the chance to restart but said he ultimately agreed with the finish given the finale last year.
“It always brings memories back,” said Hamilton. “That is the rules how it should be, right?
“There’s only one time in the history of the sport where they haven’t done the rules like that today and that’s the one where it changed the result of the championship. But it is what it is.”
Michael Masi, who has since left Formula 1’s governing FIA, did not let some cars un-lap themselves in Abu Dhabi last year, with the race restarted sooner than it should have been – leaving the door open for Verstappen.
While both Red Bull and Ferrari said they wanted to restart Sunday’s race, FIA’s Race Director Niels Wittich, who is one of the replacements for Masi, correctly applied the rules.
“I think this time they followed the rules,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “Maybe they could have done it a lap sooner, and they accepted the race ends under the Safety Car.
“This is how it should be.”
What happened at Monza and why fans were denied finale
Verstappen was cruising towards his fifth win in a row – 16 seconds ahead of the two-stopping Charles Leclerc – when Daniel Ricciardo ground to a halt in his McLaren on Lap 47 of 53, stopping his car in between the Lesmos.
While yellow flags were immediately waved, there was a slight delay before a Safety Car period was signalled.
Still, Verstappen and Leclerc followed many of their rivals into the pits on the following lap, fitting soft tyres as teams expected the race to get under way again shortly for an epic finale.
However, valuable time was wasted when the Safety Car came out in front of George Russell’s car, in third, and not Verstappen. It also didn’t initially release Russell and the 11 cars between him and the leader.
Mercedes told Russell to overtake the Safety Car, although the British driver refrained, with no green light showing to give him confidence to do so.
Another hindrance was the fact marshals were unable to move Riccardo’s car, and a cherry picker only started to recover it with three laps remaining.
Shortly after, Russell and the other cars were allowed to make their way past the Safety Car, but Verstappen only got to his required position at the front of the Safety Car queue at the end of Lap 51 of 53.
“At this point it became clear there wasn’t going to be enough time for all the cars to circle back around, join the train, and then release the lapped cars to finish the race under green flag conditions,” said Sky Sports F1’s Karun Chandhok.
Verstappen and Leclerc were split by two lapped cars – Yuki Tsunoda and Valtteri Bottas – on the penultimate lap, when the Monegasque was told before the final lap that this was how it would finish.
That prompted cries of “come on, the track is clear” from Leclerc, and boos from the fans. Verstappen was also booed on the podium.
The FIA’s explanation and how it could have ended
Sky Sports F1’s Ted Kravitz revealed the explanation from the FIA afterwards.
“They said the marshals couldn’t push it, they had hoped to recover the car quicker but doing that all takes time,” he reported.
“They also said it’s important to get the cars to bunch up to allow the marshals space to recover Ricciardo’s car.
“If there is a question, it’s about the lost Lap 50, why the green light was not shown earlier to Russell, especially as his Mercedes team were saying they think he can go by.”
Chandhok agreed that “procedurally, the Race Directors did everything right… they followed the rulebook, no question about it” – but came up with an alternative scenario that would have given a better finish.
“My personal view is that in light of what happened in Abu Dhabi, if we have an incident in the last five laps, it becomes an automatic red flag with a standing start,” he said. “I think for all of us, it was a little bit of an anticlimactic finish.”
Ted, meanwhile, concluded: “Was the Race Director playing it steady? Yes. Could he have been quicker? Yes.
“But was it a just result in the way Abu Dhabi wasn’t? Yes.”