Mercedes appeal has legal legs

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on the Abu Dhabi podium

Mercedes has sound legal grounds to challenge the result of the 2021 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix according to a London-based lawyer.

Lewis Hamilton finished second to Max Verstappen in a controversial climax to Sunday’s race in Yas Marina, a situation resulting from a late Safety Car.

A one-lap sprint to the chequered flag saw Verstappen overhaul his Mercedes rival, in doing so confirming himself as world drivers’ champion.

Shortly after the race’s conclusion, Mercedes issued two protests against the result; the first with regards to Verstappen allegedly passing under Safety Car, and another regarding the actions taken by FIA race director Michael Masi.

Both were dismissed, though the constructors’ championship winners have announced its intent to lodge an appeal.

Speaking to British publication Pitpass, Duncan Bagshaw, a partner at the Howard Kennedy law firm, which specialises in international arbitration and litigation, stated that he believes Mercedes has a case.

“There was a challenge to the FIA last night which was resolved very quickly,” he said.

“The FIA, marking its own homework, perhaps unsurprisingly said that they stood by the decision of the race director Michael Masi.

“Mercedes do have a case, and I think it is quite likely they will take it to a court of arbitration because so much turns on the outcome of these races they may feel they really have no choice.”

Though Mercedes has at this point stated that it will appeal the decision, nothing more has been heard on the matter.

The lodgement of paperwork on Sunday night in Abu Dhabi begins a 96-hour ticking clock, offering the team the opportunity to present its case or withdraw the appeal.

Article 15 of the FIA International Sporting Code sets out the process for that appeal process, which in the instance of an FIA Championship is managed by the International Court of Appeal.

Should it opt to progress with the appeal, Mercedes will have 15 days to submit its case, following which the stewards will have 15 days to submit theirs.

That takes a potential resolution, which could well change the identity of the 2021 world champion, into next season.

At the heart of the issue is whether Masi exceeded his powers in the way he managed the final Safety Car, and the race’s restart.

Mercedes argues he violated Article 48.12 of the sporting regulations, which outlines how and when lapped cars should be released to un-lap themselves prior to the race being restarted.

Masi and Red Bull countered that by claiming that regulation is overruled by Article 48.13, regarding notification of the Safety Car’s withdrawal.

“This decision was by the race director himself applying a rule under the regulations which is, I would say, very clear and quite explicit about what has to happen in this situation,” Bagshaw added.

“Everybody wanted to see that race finish in racing conditions but the rule makes it very clear that any cars that have been lapped by the leader have to be allowed to pass the leading cars and the Safety Car before the race is restarted and he did not allow that to happen.

“It’s very important for Mercedes to give the message that racing is the most important thing to this sport and that they respect the outcome of the race on the track but they must also accept the fact that commercially this is a sport that revolves around money.

“They have obligations to Lewis Hamilton, their team, their sponsors and many other people, it may be not so much they want to challenge this decision, that they want this season to be decided before a committee of arbitrators but simply that they don’t have any choice.”

Mercedes has until the early hours of Friday morning (AEDT) to confirm whether it will proceed with the appeal.

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