By: Ismail Teladia, Radio 786 Sports Correspondent
What promised to be a record-breaking season for Lewis Hamilton turned out to be very disappointing. Having driven himself into contention for an unprecedented 8th Drivers Championship, it was all taken away in a dramatic, few minutes leading up to that fateful final lap in Abu Dhabi at the YAZ circuit. What was up to that point one of the most enthralling F1 Grand Prix seasons in recent history was decimated by race director Michael Masi when he announced that the final lap was to a race lap. What was wrong with this decision you may ask?
Let me outline for you why that decision in my mind was to orchestrate the first driver’s championship for Max Verstappen from Team Red Bull. Take nothing away from Max. He is an excellent young driver that would continue to win Grand Prix’s and possible multiple world championship titles. However, this was Lewis Hamilton’s and it was taken away from him. In the second half of this season (2021), Lewis won enough races to come right back into contention for the world title. In the penultimate race of the season, at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand prix on the street circuit of Jeddah, Hamilton not only won the race but tied the drivers championship points standing with Verstappen. All square going into the final race of the season.
In the qualifying rounds at Abu Dhabi it was a dogfight for pole position. Any advantage that either of the driver’s could get, they would compete for, which was what fans the world over wanted. In race qualifier 3, it was Verstappen who had switched to soft tyres which got him ahead of Hamilton. Max was on pole and Hamilton second but that would mean that he would have to start the Grand Prix on ‘soft tyres’ which was not ideal. Hamilton, did what was expected and took the lead from Verstappen during the first lap. That is where he remained for the rest of the race building a 12 second gap on Verstappen with 5 laps to go. Hamilton had done what was required to win the Grand Prix and with it his 8th World Championship. Crash one Latifi, and out comes the safety car with 5 laps to go. The following happens during those few laps behind the safety car:
- All cars to reduce their speed by 40%
- Red Bull calls in Verstappen for a tyre change – legitimate move
- Mercedes does not call in Hamilton because he may lose his race position
- Race is expected to be completed behind safety car because Latifi’s car debris was still being removed
- On lap 58 (penultimate lap) cars are allowed to overtake – against regulations
- Verstappen therefore pulls up alongside Hamilton – no 12 sec gap
- At this point race director calls in safety car and calls on drivers to race
This decision only has one outcome – victory for Verstappen. This is the reason why I firmly believe that the decision to race was to orchestrate a victory for Verstappen and Red Bull. There could be no other outcome. A sad day indeed for Formula One racing. It was great to see Hamilton congratulating Max on his victory. It must have been painful.
Mercedes has since decided not to take the FIA to court which they were in a good position to win but as stated by Toto Woolf, team principal, that the FIA and F1 credibility had been tarnished by the Abu Dhabi race. The team said they had made the decision following “constructive dialogue” with governing body FIA with regard to establishing clarity for future racing scenarios.
“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,” Mercedes said in a statement.