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Mercedes withdraws its appeal of disputed Formula One season finale

Mercedes appealed on behalf of driver Lewis Hamilton, front, who was beaten in a controversial finish to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

Mercedes on Thursday withdrew its appeal of the controversial finish to the Formula One season finale that cost driver Lewis Hamilton a record eighth championship.

Mercedes filed two protests after Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates, during which a late crash and restart helped rival Max Verstappen storm past Hamilton to win his first title. Both protests were rejected, and Mercedes went to the International Court of Appeal for reconsideration, a process that could have taken months to resolve.

“We left Abu Dhabi in disbelief of what we had just witnessed,” Mercedes said in a statement Thursday. “Of course, it’s part of the game to lose a race, but it’s something different when you lose faith in racing. … We have always been guided by our love of this sport and we believe that every competition should be won on merit. In the race on Sunday many felt, us included, that the way things unfolded was not right.”

Max Verstappen stuns Lewis Hamilton to win Formula One championship in controversial finish

Mercedes protested Verstappen’s position as the drivers maneuvered behind the safety car following a crash with five laps remaining and a call by race director Michael Masi to allow some lapped drivers to pass the safety car — a decision that put Verstappen in position to win the race after a restart with one lap remaining.

Hamilton held a sizable lead into the final laps of Sunday’s race before Nicholas Latifi crashed into a barrier, causing the safety car to come out with five laps to go and setting the ensuing controversy over Verstappen’s victory into motion.

The safety car slowed the pace of the race, allowing Latifi’s car to be cleared from the track while Hamilton, Verstappen and the five lapped cars between them began to bunch and snake behind the safety car.

Verstappen, on fresher tires, was equipped to catch and pass Hamilton if the safety car departed with enough time left, but with three laps remaining, teams were informed that the lapped cars would remain in place, creating additional obstacles for Verstappen to pursue Hamilton when the race restarted. Moments later, ignoring procedure and precedent, Masi allowed the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, while keeping the other three lapped cars behind them in place. The decision, which ensured the race would not end under a safety car, cleared Verstappen’s path and gave him ample opportunity to overtake — or pass — Hamilton.

Formula One drivers are not permitted to overtake an opponent before the safety car returns to pit lane. In the first of its two protests, Mercedes argued that Verstappen nudged ahead of Hamilton as they ran side by side behind the safety car before the race resumed. Officials determined that Verstappen did “for a very short period of time move slightly in front” of Hamilton but that he pulled behind the Mercedes driver before the safety car departed.

The team’s second protest argued that Masi improperly managed the race during the safety car period by allowing only some of the lapped cars — the five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen, rather than all eight — to unlap themselves before rushing the race restart. Officials said Masi was authorized to regulate the end of the race in the manner that he did.

“We appealed in the interest of sporting fairness, and we have since been in constructive dialogue with the FIA [auto racing’s governing body] and Formula 1 to create clarity for the future, so that all competitors know the rules under which they are racing, and how they will be enforced,” the Mercedes statement said. “Thus, we welcome the decision by the FIA to install a commission to thoroughly analyse what happened in Abu Dhabi and to improve the robustness of rules, governance and decision making in Formula 1. …

“The Mercedes-AMG Petronas team will actively work with this commission to build a better Formula 1 — for every team and every fan who loves this sport as much as we do. We will hold the FIA accountable for this process and we hereby withdraw our appeal.”

Sunday’s result gave Mercedes its eighth consecutive constructors’ championship, awarded to Formula One’s top-scoring team, although Verstappen’s victory relegated Hamilton to second place in the drivers’ championship and halted his pursuit of a record eighth drivers’ title.

Despite dropping its appeal, Mercedes has continued to harbor resentment about Masi’s late-race decisions. Team principal Toto Wolff said he would not attend the FIA’s prize-giving ceremony Thursday in Paris, noting that he was trying to compartmentalize his anger toward the drivers’ championship outcome with the joy of the team’s success.

Hamilton, who Wednesday became the fourth Formula One driver to be knighted in England, also skipped the event despite a Formula One rule requiring the top three drivers to attend the ceremony.

“No, both of us won’t be there. And I won’t be there because of my loyalty to Lewis and because of my own personal integrity,” Wolff told reporters.

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