They naturally saw the process as the last chance for the outcome of the 2021 world championship to be turned around, and they wanted to see justice done. As such there’s a widespread feeling on social media that Mercedes let the fans down, or that the team has been silenced by some kind of deal with the FIA.
So why did the team chose not to pursue its appeal? It comes down to two main factors. There was a indeed a conversation with the FIA, but only insofar as the governing body agreed to launch a full investigation that will come up with answers that the team wants.
And secondly, team principal Toto Wolff and his colleagues recognised that, however strong they felt their case might be, they were not going to win it – and there would be no change to the result of the race and thus the championship.
Rather than push on with an inevitably messy process that could damage the sport and the image of Mercedes, it was decided to call a halt to proceedings.
“After the race, I called Jean Todt and [FIA secretary general] Peter Bayer and said that I didn’t agree with this decision,” Wolff explained on Thursday. “Of course I knew that it was purely a personal emotion, because we had to sort out the legal remedies and whether we could protest at all, or against what. And we did that immediately in my office.
“We got all the engineers, lawyers, Ola [Kallenius, Daimler chairman], just all together and decided to file this protest. Ron Meadows and the team went to see the stewards twice, at the invitation of the stewards. And then we waited for the decision, which was negative.
“And then it was a matter of going back to the hotel and sulking, or thinking about what had happened. Or, on the other hand, to celebrate an eighth constructors’ title with the team. And that’s what I did – trying to push aside the frustration about the decision that cost the drivers’ world title, until the next day.”
Filing a notice of intent to appeal bought the team 96 hours during which to consider its options. The deadline was Thursday evening – by co-incidence the same time as the FIA prize giving, where Verstappen was due to get his trophy.
“We’ve spent all the last few days being in dialogue with the FIA, with Lewis and Ola and his colleagues to make the right decision,” said Wolff.
“And we’ve vacillated over and over again in those days between, ‘We’re going to go through with this appeal’ and ‘We’re going to pull back despite all the anger and just try to make the sport better and use this moment to just make the decision-making more robust’. The final decision to withdraw the appeal was made on Wednesday evening.”
Asked if in the aforementioned dialogue with the FIA any admission by the governing body that mistakes was made, Wolff stressed that it hadn’t, which is no surprise.
“I think it is very difficult in such a situation to compromise your legal position. And I think for the FIA it wasn’t clear if we would go all the way with the appeal, and therefore you cannot expect any admission. I think they have taken the right step.
“The president has convinced the World Motor Sport Council to set this commission in place, to look at the incidents of the Abu Dhabi race, and to avoid any such situations going forward. All of us welcome that decision. I don’t think it was easy. The statement of the FIA, when you understand the nature of the governing body, is a strong and robust one.
“Obviously as a racer you would wish full admission, but that is not possible at that stage. I think we have taken a stop in the right direction. It is a modest step, considering the magnitude of the failures on Sunday night, but better a modest step than not.”
The bottom line is that Mercedes thought that it wouldn’t win at the International Court of Appeal, and in suggesting that Wolff in effect criticised the sport’s judicial system, which was a bold claim to make in public.
“We believe we had a very strong case, and if you look at it from the legal side, if it would have been judged in a regular court you could almost guarantee that we would have won. But the problem with the ICA is the way it is structured.
“The FIA can’t really mark their own homework. And there is a difference between being right, and obtaining justice.
“So there is a lesson to be learned, how can we make sure that going forward in situations like that that the right decisions are being taken, the verdicts from stewards are a response to the regulations, and judgement in the courts – whether it is the ICA or the CAS [Court for Arbitration on Sport] which is not currently part of the legislation – can be judged in a way that is fair and neutral to every participant.”
Wolff stressed that Hamilton was personally involved throughout the process: “Every step on the way it was joint decisions. We decided together with Lewis to protest, to launch the appeal, and to withdraw the appeal.
“As you can imagine, not only for him, but also for us as a team, it was terrible to be confronted with a decision that decided the outcome of the world championship.
“But nobody of us, neither him or us, want to win a world championship in the courtroom. But on the other side, we were deeply wronged on Sunday. And it wasn’t just a case of a bad call, it was a freestyle reading of the rules, and it left Lewis like a sitting duck. It was tremendously hard for him and for us as a team to withdraw the appeal, because we were wronged.
“And we deeply believe that in F1, the pinnacle of motor racing, one of the most important sports in the world, justice is being done. So my soul and my heart cries with every bone that this should have been judged in the right way, and the legal situation would have given us right. But there’s a difference between being right and obtaining justice.”
Wolff has sympathy with Hamilton fans who believe that Mercedes should have pressed on with its case, and have expressed their thoughts on social media.
“I can understand the frustrations of many,” he said. “And to be honest, I have the same. I am also in two minds, all the time, between my perspective and my judgment on the legal position, and my realism about the outcome of such proceedings.
“As I said before, there’s a difference between being right and obtaining justice. And I don’t think that at the moment, we are set up in terms of our governance to end up in a situation that would have given us remedy, that would have reinstalled the result that was taken away from Lewis before the last lap of the race. And that’s why heavy-hearted we have decided not to appeal because we wouldn’t have gotten the result back. Now I think we have the right tools in hand to make sure that the decision making going forward is better.
“And we will be holding the FIA and the decision makers accountable for making the sport more robust and the decision making more robust and more consistent.”
All eyes will now be on the FIA as its newly elected president Mohammed Ben Sulayem takes on the job of setting up and overseeing the commission that was suggested by his predecessor.
No details have emerged of what form it might take, but Wolff says it has to do a proper job. And having withdrawn the appeal in part as a response to its formation, Mercedes will no doubt try to ensure that it does.
“I expect the commission to not only come up with words, but with actions,” said Wolff. “And we will hold them accountable for the actions. Because we cannot continue in a sport that is meant to be sport followed by entertainment, and not the other way around, [where] we are held ransom by ad hoc decisions in every field – in technical and sporting.
“And 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 it is on, and what is not on.”
He stressed that it’s not just about Abu Dhabi, but the bigger picture: “It is a wider problem, because if you look at most of the controversies that have happened this year, it was about decisions.
“Sporting decisions on the track, inconsistency of the execution of the regulations on track. It’s one thing to drive hard, and to have differences of opinion among the drivers, and among the teams.
“It is in the nature of the game. But inconsistent decision making leads to controversies, leads to polarisation, and that was the grounds for many of the totally unnecessary controversies on the track.
“So the FIA needs to decide how they are going forward. We had a good dialogue with the FIA over the last few days.
“The commission that it has set in place I have trust and faith that we will formulate, together with all of our competitors and the drivers and the other teams the right decisions and actions to avoid such a scenario in the future.”