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Formula 1 makes massive one-word change to crucial rule

The Formula 1 Safety Car rule has been updated to eliminate the ambiguous nature which played a role in the 2021 season finale.

Multiple changes have been made within the FIA following the controversial ending to the 2021 Formula 1 season at Yas Marina Circuit in December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

One such change made since that race was the removal of Michael Masi as race director. Now, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas are set to act alternatively as race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as permanent senior advisor.

But another significant change was made earlier this week, and it involves the changing of just one word in the safety car procedure.

During a late safety car period, the five cars between race leader Lewis Hamilton and second place driver Max Verstappen were given the opportunity to unlap themselves prior to the restart with one lap remaining, but the lapped cars behind Verstappen were not.

Generally speaking, lapped cars are given the opportunity to unlap themselves prior to a safety car restart, and that is what both Hamilton and Verstappen were told what would initially happen over the radio.

However, there were doubts about whether the race would actually have had the opportunity to restart, should this have been the case.

As a result, the decision was made that only those five cars would be allowed to unlap themselves.

This was a decision made by Masi in order to ensure that the 58-lap race around the 16-turn, 3.281-mile (5.28-kilometer) road course on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — and thus the championship battle — would not end under caution and that the two title contenders would not be separated by backmarkers for the title-deciding lap.

This set up a restart with one lap remaining in the “Decider in the Desert”, featuring Hamilton leading but on older hard tires and Verstappen in second place on newer soft tires.

Verstappen made the winning move into turn five and held off two separate challenges from Hamilton throughout the remainder of the lap to secure his first title, denying Hamilton what would have been a record-breaking eighth.

Mercedes were left disgusted and in disbelief over what had transpired and initially appealed the result, but their efforts were rejected and it was not overturned. They then abandoned their plan to further appeal the result.

One of Red Bull’s arguments in support of the way the procedure was carried out was that the rule in Article 55.13 uses the word “any”, not “all”, when referencing the fact that lapped cars get the opportunity to unlap themselves prior to the safety car restart.

So by this logic, the fact that those five cars were allowed to unlap themselves was not a violation.

Now, to avoid this kind of ambiguity in the future, the word “any” has officially been changed to “all”.

Prior to the change, Article 55.13 had read, “Any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.”

Now, the article reads, “All cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.”

Had this been the case prior to the season finale, there would have been no questions about how the procedure should be carried out. But it wasn’t, and so at that particular moment in time, it was left up for interpretation.

This change effectively indicates that, yes, there was an element of ambiguity that led to that decision; it wasn’t a blatant disregard for the rules like many would like to believe.

And while Masi did end up being replaced, there was a lot more, specifically over the course of the 2021 season, which led to the various changes made by the FIA over the offseason than his decision in this pivotal moment.

The 2022 season is scheduled to get underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit this Sunday, March 20. Tune in to ESPN at 11:00 a.m. ET for the live broadcast of the race, and get your free trial of FuboTV today!

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