FERRARI to the fore in first Grand Prix but last year’s controversial outcome is still a talking point, writes PETER COSTER:
MICHAEL Masi ensured last year’s F1 world championship finished as a race rather than a procession under a safety car.
It cost seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton a record-breaking eighth title and it cost the Australian race director his job.
The FIA promised to find Masi another job but they haven’t found him one as yet.
The release of the seven-page FIA report on the greatest controversy in the 71-year history of the championship coincided with the first race of 2022 in Bahrain.
Masi was nowhere to be seen and Ferrari grabbed the headlines with a one-two finish, with new champion Max Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez forced to retire in the final laps.
This let Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz into second place and Hamilton into third place.Embed from Getty Images
It was no consolation for having lost the world championship last year because of what the FIA decided was “human error” without directly naming the unfortunate Masi.
Hamilton also found himself paying a fine of fifty thousand euros for failing to turn up for Verstappen’s victory dinner in Paris at the end of last season.
The money is to go to charity and would have passed unnoticed from Hamilton’s yearly salary of some US$40 million, which doesn’t include bonuses and endorsements.
Why was Masi wrong?
Not everyone would agree that he was, but his main supporters are Red Bull, which encouraged him to make a race of it towards the end of last year’s Abu Dhabi GP.
Mercedes was just as vocal in lobbying Masi not to let lapped cars stay between Hamilton and Verstappen. Masi let them pass Hamilton and restarted the race with Verstappen sitting behind Hamilton on fresh tyres.
The FIA decided Masi should have let all the lapped cars pass Hamilton, not just those between the Mercedes driver and Verstappen.
The FIA also decided the race should have continued under safety rules for another lap, by which time the race would have been over.
Hamilton had been 10 seconds ahead of Verstappen when the safety car came out because of a crash in the final laps.
There are now two race directors and Formula One has other things to occupy its mind.
The next race is in Saudi Arabia on March 27 and is of more than passing concern in a rapidly deteriorating world situation.
Earlier this month, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia carried out the mass execution of 81 civilians on terrorism charges and for holding what were described as “deviant beliefs.”
Some 37 were Saudi citizens and while none might have been thinking of attending the Saudi Grand Prix, the FIA has made no mention of cancelling the race.
The Russian Grand Prix was cancelled following the invasion of Ukraine and not only for this year.
The FIA has terminated the contract for the foreseeable future.
Russian driver Nikita Mazepin (better known as Nikita MazeSpin for his driving style) was sacked by Haas because of his billionaire father’s connections with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Formula One has been known to ignore tensions in many of the countries it races in, but political correctness has forced it to new levels of global accountability.
Lewis Hamilton led F1 drivers in “taking the knee” before races to demonstrate that “Black Lives Matter.”
Mercedes changed its Silver Arrows team colours to black, although the cars are back to their original colours this year.
But it was Ferrari red that proved dominant at Bahrain after two seasons back in the pack.
This year has brought in major aerodynamic changes, which appear to have been better handled by Ferrari than either Red Bull or Mercedes.
Charles Leclerc in the winning Ferrari led from Verstappen before the new world champion and teammate Perez succumbed to what were thought to be the same engine problem.
This was unexpected after the announcement that Honda was going to continue supplying its race winning engines to Red Bull after announcing they would leave F1.
Nikita MazeSpin’s sacking brought Danish driver Kevin Magnussen back to Haas. The Dane finished fifth, the American team’s best result since the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix.
Mercedes did better with Hamilton on the podium after being off the pace and Valtteri Bottas, who was pushed out at Mercedes to make way for George Russell from Williams, scored points for Alfa Romeo.
The final point went to Bottas’s rookie teammate Guanyu Zhou. The Chinese driver finished 10th after starting 15th.
Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda finished eighth after starting 16th while teammate Pierre Gasly was in eighth place before the car then burst into flames.
Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished 14th and 15th for McLaren in a devastating start to a season unlikely to get much better.
Norris said McLaren was “a long way off the pace.”
In Melbourne, fans will be hoping Ricciardo can get closer to the sharp end of the grid at the Australian Grand Prix on April 10.
Did the Australian driver make the right move in leaving Red Bull to go to Renault and now McLaren?
Apart from a taste of honey in winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last year, the answer for the Honey Badger must be a resounding, “No!”