There are still 42 days before we’ll see Formula 1 cars running on track again at pre-season testing in Barcelona, and only 31 since the final race of 2021.
Usually by this stage, all of the interest and attention would be on what is to come rather than what happened a month ago, because in the social media-led world of instant gratification and up-to-the-second information, what comes next tends to be far more attractive than what has gone before.
But that’s not the case with F1 right now, especially where the FIA is concerned.
And that’s because there is still a very large number of people – ranging from fans to team members – who are really keen to see just what the FIA will conclude from its “detailed analysis” of the final laps in Abu Dhabi.
It’s not a stewards’ review that could lead to some sort of change of the race outcome, but what so many people want to understand is just how and why the decisions that were taken at the final race were taken, an admission that errors were made – but again, an explanation as to how – and clear steps to prevent any similar situation happening in future.
Conclusions alone will not be enough. As Toto Wolff made abundantly clear in December, part of Mercedes’ decision to drop its appeal into the outcome of the race came with the caveat that action would be taken.
“I expect the commission to not only come up with words but with actions,” Wolff said. “And we will hold them accountable for actions, as we cannot continue in a sport that is meant to be sport followed by entertainment and not the other way around, that we are held ransom by ad hoc decisions in any field – be it technical or sporting. Therefore there need to be clear measures in place before the start of the season so every driver, every team, and the fans, understand what’s on and what is not on.”
Even now, Wolff saying it’s important that people understand is significant, because the FIA initially stated the circumstances around the Safety Car and communications to Race Control “notably generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans, an argument that is currently tarnishing the image of the Championship”.
That was on December 15. Those arguments are ongoing, and are likely to remain unchanged until the FIA says something. Anything.
Admittedly, the timing of having to deal with such a situation (one of the FIA’s own making) couldn’t have been much worse. Right at the end of the year before the General Assembly and vote on a new president meant there was so much to be done in a short space of time before Christmas, and then the majority had time off already booked at the end of another exhausting year of racing amid a pandemic.
But it’s still a great business to be involved in, and while I don’t think it would be fair for anyone to expect FIA members to cancel Christmas to carry out the analysis into Abu Dhabi, they surely should have known that they’d need to move quickly once January rolled around.
How detailed this analysis proves to be will ultimately tell us whether it was realistic to expect to have heard anything by now, but a request for an update this week was politely responded to with a promise that they “will give clarity shortly”. Whether shortly means days or weeks remains to be seen.
While fans have been attempting to keep the pressure on via social media, it was telling that this week a well-sourced report from the BBC suggests Mercedes is also keen to do the same. Whether Lewis Hamilton really is considering his future at this point or not, only he will know, but the timing of such a piece points to annoyance within the team that there hasn’t been any significant communication so far.
“I think in the day and age of transparency, such decisions cannot be made any more in backroom deals,” Wolff also said last month. And it’s the transparency that’s currently lacking.
That doesn’t mean the FIA isn’t getting on with the review, or that new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem hasn’t made it a priority despite being lumbered with the fallout from something that didn’t happen under his watch. But it does mean nobody really knows what has been going on because the FIA hasn’t communicated much, at a time when it really needs to.
I sometimes push back against requests for information 24/7, because so often nothing has been said because there is nothing to say. If nothing has changed since the last update, then repeating yourself simply leads to further complaints that there was no substance in the latest information.
But there is so much focus on what happened in Abu Dhabi, so much riding on the FIA’s credibility and F1’s reputation, that it is surprising nothing about the process has been said for the best part of a month, even taking the time of year into account.
Ben Sulayem, to his credit, has answered questions when asked at the FIA Prize Giving and the Dakar in recent weeks, but with little substance about the ongoing analysis. Many teams say they have had no communication on the matter specifically, despite the 15 December statement saying it would “be discussed and addressed with all the teams and drivers to draw any lessons from this situation and clarity to be provided to the participants, media, and fans about the current regulations”.
To provide the biggest benefit of doubt possible, perhaps the FIA has been working hard internally and has yet to involve the teams directly, but it is not in a position to do that quietly. Even with little to say, in the interests of transparency it should look to provide as many updates as possible, because its reputation is on the line.
The FIA is on the back foot and needs to regain some semblance of trust from many quarters, and it will only do that by being as open and honest as possible. Now is not the time for it to be silent.