F1 played host to one of the most dramatic moments in Sporting history on Sunday when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen went wheel to wheel to decide the 2021 World Drivers Championship.
Verstappen came out as the victor of the 2021 Formula 1 season finale, overtaking Hamilton on the last lap of the race to clinch his first title and prevent Hamilton from winning a record breaking eighth.
However, while the pair’s driving across the season no doubt engineered the build up to such an exciting finale that captivated a UK audience of 7.4 million people, a new record, it was the decisions made by race control that dictated much of the agenda after the chequered flag had been waved.
Race Director Michael Masi and his team of stewards caused such confusion for those both in the paddock and for those watching at home, providing such contradictory directions for the race at a crucial time.
With just a few laps to go, Nicholas Latifi spun out and hit the wall at a vital section of the track, causing a safety car. This was perfectly reasonable. It was what came in the ensuing laps that caused confusion for everyone.
After declaring that lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake, thus seemingly giving the race win to Hamilton, as unlapping the lapped cars would take too long to do before the race ended, this decision was suddenly reversed.
The cars sitting between Verstappen and Hamilton were allowed to unlap themselves while others were not, something that has not been seen before in Formula 1. This allowed Verstappen on a new set of soft tyres to ease past Hamilton and snatch the race away at the end of the grand prix.
While it was the sort of ending everyone would have hoped for, the way it came about was far from ideal.
Appeals from Mercedes about a massive breach of regulations followed afterwards, and while they definitely had a case, these appeals were ultimately rejected.
As outlined below, article 48.12, which references the use of the safety car, was overruled by article 48.13 that references the unlapping of cars under the safety car.
Stewards outlined that Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control use of the SC. "That although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, Article 48.13 overrides that."
Mercedes wanted results taken back to penultimate lap. Stewards said this was not appropriate.
— Phillip Horton (@PHortonF1) December 12, 2021
While this is not uncommon in many sporting regulations, the extraordinary circumstances of the race on Sunday made such vague and confusing sporting regulations unfit for purpose at a time when complete clarity was needed.
Consequently, it would have been unfair one way or another to alter the result of the race following this massive screw-up from race control.
That is why over the winter break the rules and regulations of F1 need to be clarified and be made as water tight as possible to ensure this situation does not happen again anytime soon.
It is likely after the drama of the last race, more people than ever will be watching Formula 1. And with that in mind, one of the most basic ways of retaining viewership is clarity on the rules and regulations when something controversial happens.
With a brand new era of Formula 1 also coming into play next season, the rules must be looked at and adjusted to ensure clarity in any future scenarios such as this one, rather than allowing for different interpretations of whether some or all lapped cars can unlap themselves and when it is appropriate to resume a race considering these variables.