Red Bull's Max Verstappen has been confirmed as the 2021 Formula 1 world champion after the FIA stewards rejected the second of two protests lodged against the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by the rival Mercedes team.
The first of the protests against the way Verstappen challenged Lewis Hamilton on the way to a last lap restart after a safety car had already been rejected earlier in the evening.
However deliberations about how race control managed the restart itself went long into the night at Yas Marina, with Mercedes even fielding a barrister to argue their legal case.
This has also now failed, meaning that the result of today's race stands and that Verstappen is confirmed as the first driver from the Netherlands to win motorsport's highest sporting honour.
"They've come to the right decision," was the verdict of Red Bull boss Christian Horner as he emerged from the stewards office having been informed of the decision.
"It [Mercedes' protests] obviously felt a little bit desperate. But we didn't want it to finish in front of the stewards.
"They've been great competitors this year. And Lewis has been a phenomenal driver.
"It's had its moments, it has been tense. It's been tough. But we're just delighted with the outcome. And very proud of Max tonight. He has been phenomenal all year."
The formal statement from the FIA explained that Mercedes had claimed that there had been two breaches of the Sporting Regulations (Article 48.12). This states “...any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car," and "...once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap."
The statement explained that Mercedes had argued that had this been complied with, Hamilton would have won the race and with it the title.
Red Bull argued the precise wording of the regulations - specifically that they did not require the race director to allow all cars to unlap themselves and that the timing of the safety car coming in was not strictly defined, and concluding that Article 48.13 “overrides” Article 48.12.
The team added that Article 15.3 gives the Race Director “overriding authority” over “the use of the safety car” and that even if all cars that had been lapped (8 in total, of which 5 were allowed to overtake the safety car) it would not have changed the outcome of the race.
In his deposition, race director Michael Masi stated that the purpose of Article 48.12 was to remove those lapped cars that would “interfere” in the racing between the leaders and that in his view Article 48.13 was the one that applied in this case.
He also also stated that it had long been agreed by all the teams that where possible it was highly desirable for the race to end in a “green” condition, that is to say not under a safety car.
The stewards agreed with the argument that Article 15.3 gave the race director overall discretion in the use of the safety car, "which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal."
The findings continued: "although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to the pits at the end of the following lap, Article 48.13 overrides that and once the message 'safety car in this lap' has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap.
"Notwithstanding Mercedes’ request that the Stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the Stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate.
The stewards concluded: "Accordingly the protest is dismissed".
It reminded all parties of the right to appeal in accordance with Article 15 of the FIA International Sporting Code and Chapter 4 of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules, within the applicable time limits.
Mercedes swiftly confirmed that it had indeed exercised its intention to appeal to the FIA International Court of Appeal within the next 72 hours.