Verstappen to receive trophy as F1 braced for critical 48 hours

Max Verstappen will receive his Formula 1 world drivers' championship trophy in Paris on Thursday evening as the ongoing controversy surrounding the Abu Dhabi events is set for a crunch 48 hours.

At the annual FIA Prize Gala event, Verstappen will be presented with the famous trophy that marks the culmination of a brilliant campaign for the Dutchman to secure his maiden title.

But while he and his Red Bull team are set for a night to remember, F1 is still reeling from the scandal that has engulfed the sport over the way the final safety car restart at the Yas Marina circuit was handled.

Mercedes remains furious that F1 race director Michael Masi elected to break from normal procedure as laid down in the rules.

His decision to shuffle selected backmarkers and restart the race earlier than the regulations dictate, in a bid to allow the one-lap showdown that helped Verstappen triumph, prompted a Mercedes protest on Sunday night.

While the FIA stewards rejected Mercedes' complaints, stating that Masi has complete authority over the use of the safety car, the matter is still up in the air after Mercedes lodged a notification of intent to appeal.

As preparations continue for the FIA Prize Gala, all eyes are on Mercedes over whether it will push on with the appeal, and even have any part in the celebrations in Paris.

It was notable that the Mercedes F1 car, which helped the team to the constructors' world championship, and its Formula E car, which helped Nyck de Vries to the electric series crown, were absent from the pre-event FIA photographs showcasing each of the major world title-winning machinery.

 

There is also no guarantee that Mercedes representatives will take any part in the Gala Awards on Thursday night, even though its drivers are mandated to attend in the rule book.

On the appeal front, Mercedes has until 7pm UK time on Thursday to decide whether or not to push on with its case against the actions of the FIA, but it clearly finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place over what to do.

On the one hand, there is anger about the events on Sunday, which have prompted fresh questions about the way in which F1 is run and the rule book is applied.

If Mercedes does not push on with the matter, then there is a risk the events could get brushed under the carpet and forgotten about, which would set a bad precedent for the future.

However, Mercedes is equally well aware that an appeal's process, which has the scope to change the outcome of the F1 world championship, could be immensely damaging for the image of the sport.

The FIA's statement on Thursday night about opening an analysis in to the events of Sunday could, however, offer some hope for Mercedes that matters will be addressed even if the appeal is dropped.

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But equally, the governing body's accusations that the scale of the controversy has been triggered by fans, teams and media 'misunderstanding' the situation has suggested that the FIA does not comprehend why there has been such a backlash over the events.

Since Hamilton lost the world championship in Abu Dhabi there has been radio silence from both the Briton and his Mercedes team about the situation.

There have been no media interviews and the normally very active Mercedes social media accounts have not posted since it was announced on Sunday night that it had lodged a notice of intention to appeal.

The closest fans have come to knowing the feelings within the camp is a tweet that Susie Wolff, wife of Toto, posted on Thursday morning.

In it, she made clear that Verstappen and Red Bull were deserving winners, but the manner in which the title was won left her with a "sick feeling".

She wrote: "The decision of one person within the governing body who applied a rule in a way which has never been done before in F1 single-handedly decided the F1 driver world championship. Rules are rules, they can't be changed on a whim by one individual at the end of a race."

Whatever the final call of the Mercedes appeal decision, also critical to moving forward will be the outcome of the FIA presidential election on Friday.

Being contested by Graham Stoker and Mohammed ben Sulayem, the victor is due to hold a press conference in Paris on Friday afternoon.

What is said there, and the new president's reaction to the Abu Dhabi controversy, will be critical for better understanding about how willing the new regime is to address matters and avert the damage that is being done to F1's image.

Fans, teams and media are united in their belief that lessons need to be learned and action taken to ensure that what happened in Abu Dhabi is not repeated in the future.

As Susie Wolff signed off in her tweet: "I hope by March of next year there is a governing body with sporting integrity and fairness at its core so I can fall back in love with F1."

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