Was This The Best End To A Season?
THE ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX: SUNDAY 12TH DECEMBER 2021
YAS MARINA CIRCUIT
- 1. Max Verstappen
- 2. Lewis Hamilton
- 3. Carlos Sainz Jr
- 4. Yuki Tsunoda
- 5. Pierre Gasly
- 6. Valtteri Bottas
- 7. Lando Norris
- 8. Fernando Alonso
- 9. Esteban Ocon
- 10. Charles Leclerc
“It just summed up the whole season.. which is completely unpredictable and crazy.” (Max Verstappen)
Well, that’s one way of putting it… Max Verstappen won his first Formula One World Championship today – but his joy was marred by controversy.
The race began with a disputed decision on the first lap after an aggressive move to overtake by Verstappen forced Hamilton off the track. After Hamilton re-joined the track he maintained his lead – and Red Bull complained. Race director Michael Masi dismissed the complaint, saying that Verstappen had been at fault in causing the situation and any advantage that had been gained – had since been given back.
As the race progressed, it looked as though Hamilton’s pace was simply too much for Verstappen and the Dutchman had little hope of catching him without some level of divine intervention. If this had remained the case, then the incident on the first chicane would have been the most talked about injustice.
Hope came for Red Bull in the form of a virtual safety car – giving them a free pit for fresh tyres. But this didn’t change much and the gap between the two just seemed to stabilise. Hamilton looked like he had the record 8th title win in the bag.
Until Latifi crashed with 5 laps to go.
Another safety car, another ‘free’ pit for Verstappen. At this stage of the race Mercedes didn’t want to risk a pit - and the lead - if Verstappen chose to stay out. As he may well have done. His tyres were still ok.
At this stage of the race, it wasn’t clear if there would be a restart. Hamilton knew that if there was, then with Verstappen behind him on fresher tyres – he was vulnerable.
What followed was a ‘baffling’ interpretation of the rules by Masi.
Firstly, Masi said lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake – leaving 5 cars between Hamilton and Verstappen – this was against normal protocol. Red Bull complained.
Then Masi decided to let those 5 cars overtake, but not the other 3 – putting Verstappen and Hamilton together – but leaving 2 lapped cars behind Verstappen/in front of Sainz Jr and 1 between Bottas and Tsunoda.
Again, this was not normal protocol and this time Mercedes complained. But this time nothing changed.
The race was then restarted with one lap to go – setting up a ‘winner takes all’ finish – with the World Champion on old tyres, Verstappen on new.
The inevitable happened as Verstappen’s tyre advantage helped him to pass Hamilton into Turn 5. Hamilton tried to regain the lead – but it was too late.
While Verstappen celebrated his win, Hamilton remained in his car for several minutes – unable to comprehend what had just happened.
“I cannot believe what we’ve just seen.” (George Russell)
And Russell was not alone.
Had this been any other race, it is likely to have finished behind the safety car. But would this have been too anticlimactic? Masi has been heavily criticised for ‘tweaking’ the FIA’s rules ‘to make the final battle more exciting.’
Mercedes understandably appealed after the race. But this was thrown out partly due to the race director having ‘overriding authority’ over decision making. Angry fans screenshotted rules taken directly from the FIA highlighting which ‘had been broken’ and shared widely across social media.
Rules 48.12 and 48.13 do appear to contradict each other:
48.12: “Once the lapped car has passed the leader, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap” (this didn’t happen)
48.13: “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.” (this was used by the stewards to justify Masi’s decision – effectively overruling 48.12)
These decisions by Masi are likely to have repercussions for some time and have done further damage to the - already tense - relationship between Red Bull and Mercedes.
There are always controversial decisions scattered throughout the season – but when such decisions can directly decide the winner of the world title – it feels particularly unfair. Many are calling for the rules to be clearer and to be followed.
Which doesn’t sound like too much to ask.
If we can separate ‘how it ended’ from the rest of the season – Max Verstappen was a worthy champion. As equally worthy as Hamilton would have been. They have both been outstanding this year.
What an amazing season the drivers have given us: with one of the most closely fought battles we have seen - across 22 grand prixs – and generating such excitement that it succeeded in drawing more fans to the sport.
There is talk of a disillusioned Hamilton retiring from Formula One. It must be extraordinarily disappointing for him, but we sincerely hope that this isn’t the case.
We hope you all have a happy and healthy Christmas. See you next year!
Well done Max!