Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll says it’s “ridiculous” that the restart of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was handled incorrectly and has called for the application of the regulations to be set in stone.
While the focus has been on the impact the way the restart was handled had on the battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, with only five of the eight backmarkers allowed to unlap themselves before the safety car was brought in on the same lap that instruction was given – rather than on the following lap as the sporting regulations demand – Stroll was also disadvantaged.
Along with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Haas driver Mick Schumacher, he had pitted for fresh softs under the safety car. Stroll was running 13th, behind Ricciardo and ahead of Schumacher, but was denied the chance to attack on fresh rubber after the five cars classified ahead of them were waved past the safety car and took the restart far ahead as a result.
“My opinion is that it’s ridiculous that we didn’t go back racing the way that we should have gone back,” said Stroll. “You can’t change the rules halfway through, at the end of a race, and tell half the cars they can overtake.
“Unfortunately, I was part of the group of the other half of the cars and couldn’t overtake on brand new soft tyres with the opportunity to pass and maybe do something.
“It’s just never been done before and it’s important that we keep rules consistent. I understand it’s great to go racing and everyone wants to see the last lap of the race and the two drivers fighting for the world championship go head-to-head with one lap to go but we can’t be making up rules at the end of a race, that has to be set in stone.
“If there was maybe an error where cars didn’t pass soon enough when the safety car came out or backmarkers weren’t allowed to pass the safety car early enough and the consequence is we won’t get the whole lap of racing well, then that’s how it is.
“That is the rule, the rules have to be consistent. In Formula 1 we’ve seen some inconsistency in penalties and decision making and I think this was maybe a little bit too much. It’s important that those things are set in stone.”
The FIA is conducting a review into the outcome of the race and hinted that Masi could be replaced, though it stressed that “no decision” had been taken on the outcome of its analysis of events.
Stroll’s team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, was one of the drivers who was waved past the safety car in Abu Dhabi, taking the restarting 11th and finishing there.
Although being separated from the group of cars behind on fresh rubber benefitted him, Vettel indicated that the way the race was handled was more about the show than the competition.
“The main thing is that we focus on the sport and not so much on the show,” said Vettel.
“Last year it was always going to be a great final or great last race, because there was one winner and one loser. Ideally, you have two winners, but that’s not how the sport is designed, or any sport is designed, so it wasn’t going to work.
“Obviously, I was in the race and wondering why we’re not released earlier in order to get the race started again, but I guess there’s a protocol and rules.
“The main thing is that going forwards there’s clarity [over] what’s happening in these sort of situations and no questions asked anymore.”
When Vettel’s comment was put to Stroll, he agreed and criticised the consistency in the way that F1’s races are managed.
Although he was unwilling to give other examples, he suggested that the problem extended beyond simply how the Abu Dhabi finale was handled.
“Consistency in our sport is not our strongest point,” said Stroll, when asked by The Race about Vettel’s comments and if he felt there were times outside of Abu Dhabi when races were not handled correctly.
“Abu Dhabi was not right. The rules are the rules, when there’s a safety car, lapped cars get to overtake the safety car and then we go racing. There’s nothing that says half the cars can overtake and half the cars have to stay behind and then we’ll go racing.
“Those can’t be modified during a race just to put on a show, so I do agree with Seb’s comments, absolutely, if he said that.
“I’m not going to get into further detail with other things but definitely that was an example of poor consistency.
“The rules are the rules and we can’t be changing or modifying rules for entertainment. It has to be sport’s first and if there is something that Formula 1 or the FIA maybe did wrong or could have done differently then that’s something to review in hindsight after the race but I don’t think it’s right that that happened in Abu Dhabi.”
Despite his concerns about the way Abu Dhabi was handled, Vettel did back F1 race director Michael Masi.
He argued that he has largely done the job well and that the role is not a straightforward one, and argued that the controversy should not be focused on Masi himself.
“There’s two interests clashing,” said Vettel. “One is the sport and the other one is the show.
“Obviously, I don’t care so much about the show. I look at it as a sport and from a competitive point of view.
“It’s not very easy sometimes to be in the shoes of the referee or Michael’s shoes, but I think he’s done a great job, especially after filling in after Charlie [Whiting, former F1 race director] passed away so suddenly.
“And really [he] has been very, very focused and determined to do a good job.
“I don’t know what’s his future, but I hope he sticks around because I think overall, he did a very, very good job.
“There’s a lot of controversy for the last race, but there shouldn’t be. If you look at the bigger picture he’s done really well.”