A radio conversation between the Red Bull pit and Formula One's Race Director resurfaced earlier this week, reminding us of just how confusingly—and ultimately unfairly—things played out over the last few laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix last December.
Specifically, the audio that was allegedly released last year on Dec. 16 but not widely publicized for some reason, is of Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley talking with F1 race director Michael Masi in regards to what should be done with the lapped cars that were stacked between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
As you may already know, a retirement by Nicholas Latifi brought out a full-course caution, and ultimately, a safety car. With just a handful of laps left in the race and the title on the line, both Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull pits were quick to radio Masi to plead their cases. This resurfaced audio puts the spotlight on Massi's interaction with Wheatly, which is striking the wrong chord with F1 fans, regardless of their allegiance.
"Obviously those lapped cars, you don't need to let them go right away, round up and catch up with the back of the pack," Wheatly can be heard telling Massi over the radio. Masi simply answers, "understood." When Wheatly once again pushes Masi by saying "you need to let the cars go by," Massi once again responds, "understood, just give me a second."
Shortly after that radio interaction, Masi made the call to let the cars pass Hamilton and the safety car, essentially putting Verstappen in a prime position to overtake Hamilton.
Perhaps the most damning takeaway of the audio chatter is the provenance of Masis's specific words to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, which have become somewhat famous on the internet, prompting loads of memes and even merchandise: "Toto, it's called a motor race, okay."
It now seems that Masi wasn't the first one to utter that phrase, as Wheaton actually used nearly the exact words with Masi while demanding the lapped cars overtake the safety car. In the resurfaced audio, he can be heard saying "You need to let them go, then we've got a motor race."
As former F1 driver and current Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle recently said, this doesn't change the outcome of what happened, but it does continue to make fans uncomfortable with how the rules were applied that night.
"Of course it's really uncomfortable, and a lot of people are unhappy," Brundle told Autosport. "And you don't even have to be a Lewis Hamilton fan to think that forever he should be an eight-time world champion, because, for me, the really crucial regulation that wasn't carried out was that the safety car should have come in at the end of the following lap. Hugely unacceptable. I met so many fans that were new to Formula 1 last year particularly, and fans in general, that were hugely upset by what happened."
On the other hand, Brundle also explains that this bit of radio isn't exactly new and that it doesn't reveal anything overly damning. In one way or another, Wheatly didn't tell Masi anything he didn't already know, and we'll never know whether Red Bull fully influenced Masi or not.
"Let's not assume it's giving Masi information he didn't already know in terms of what he could and couldn't do in terms of the lapped pack," said Brundle. "We cannot - and we know it's going to change - have teams getting at the referee while he's trying to make critical decisions with cars on the track and marshals and breakdown vehicles. You can imagine that on the football ground or rugby ground is completely unacceptable. And that will change," he added.
As our own Hazel Southwell has said before, Red Bull and Verstappen were worthy champions and will continue to be until someone dethrones them. The outrage here focuses on how the rules were implemented, and whether one driver was favorited over the other when it mattered most.
Got a tip? Email us at email@example.com