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#1057 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

2021-08-03 00:00

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#1057 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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On Sunday the 12th of December 2021, the end of this exciting Formula One World Championship finally comes. Ahead of the race, Pirelli informs that the best strategy remains the one-stop strategy. The Medium and Hard combination and the Soft and Hard combination are almost equally fast. Starting on the Soft tyre, like Max Verstappen, helps at the start. Starting on Medium, as in the case of Lewis Hamilton, gives more flexibility regarding the window to make the pit stop. The two title contenders have pretty clear ideas about which strategy will be best. Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton put it this way:

 

"I think ours is the correct strategy, and I strongly believe in my team. There are a lot of British flags, the support we always have here is always fantastic. I've prepared this race as best as I can and I'm just doing my best, just thinking about this and that's it. We will evaluate every situation with the best thoughts and intentions. I will give everything".

 

While his rival is of the opposite thought:

 

"The soft tyre is the best for the start, which will be a very important moment. Anything can happen and I expect a tight battle. It's nice to see the support of the fans around the track. It's the last race and we all want to win. We feel good and we'll see how the tyres behave. We are confident".

 

For Valtteri Bottas this day represents the end of his time with the Mercedes team. In honour of their years together, he wears a special blue suit. Sergio Perez hopes to make an important contribution to his team and his teammate, Max Verstappen, as he will start from fourth position:

 

"I hope to have a good lap and get both cars in front. It's an important day for the team. I think we are on the right tyre. Maybe not for the first lap, but we can go longer. Everything is possible today. For the last time with the team I will give everything: I want to finish in style and bring both titles to the team".

 

For Charles Leclerc, on the other hand, the chase for fifth place in the championship opens up:

 

"The two cars in front have a better pace. For the others, it will all be up for grabs. For me it will be like the last day of school, although still very exciting. The objective is to keep fifth in the championship, hoping also for the help of Sainz against Norris. Hamilton-Verstappen? I don't focus on the fight between them: if I have one of them in my mirrors, I'll try not to mess it up but, if there's an opportunity for me, I'll try to take it".

 

While Carlos Sainz Jr. wants to end his first year at Ferrari in the best possible way:

 

"We are in a good position and I want to finish this season on a high note. With Norris starting third, the fight for third place in the Constructors' championship is not over yet".

 

Lando Norris, on the other hand, finds himself in a borderline situation:

 

"I felt comfortable and happy with the car. I'm in a strange position because I don't want to be influential in the title fight, but I have to protect my position on the track and manage my race".

 

Daniel Ricciardo is aiming to make up some points:

 

"The track is more fun to drive. I prefer the new layout. In terms of the race, let's try to recover and get into the points zone or score some real points. Everyone is excited and a bit tired here, so there are a lot of smiles being the last race before the holidays".

 

For the two Alfa Romeo drivers this is the last race in Formula 1. Driver Antonio Giovinazzi comments on his emotions before the race:

 

"I want to fully enjoy the last race with the team and the last race alongside Kimi Raikkonen. We will miss him. I don't feel like it's my last race, so I'll try to give my best and then think about the future".

 

Kimi Raikkonen is much calmer:

 

"I won't miss the interviews at all, to put it in a polite way. Honestly, nothing different from any other race so far. The last race of the season is always different because people seem happier. Hopefully we can have a good race".

 

At 3:20 p.m., the green light at the end of the pit lane comes on and the drivers can reach the starting grid, while twenty-five minutes later, at 3:45 p.m., the national anthem is played, with the two title contenders called to stand in front of each other, separated by the trophy that will determine the winner. The air temperature is 24°C, the asphalt temperature is 29°C. When the hand of the big Rolex watch moves across the dial indicating 4:00 p.m., the formation lap starts. To start the race, Gasly and Alonso choose to use the Hard tyres, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Vettel, Latifi, Raikkonen and Russell the Medium tyres, while Schumacher prefers the Soft tyres.

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As the reconnaissance lap is completed, the drivers position themselves on the starting grid. There is silence. Moments later the lights come on, before going out to start the race. Lewis Hamilton got off to a better start and overtook Max Verstappen, while Lando Norris missed his braking point and lost a position to Sergio Perez, who moved up to third place, while Charles Leclerc overtook Valtteri Bottas and got behind Carlos Sainz Jr. The Dutchman, after making a wrong start, spotted Hamilton, exploited his slipstream and attacked him in Turn 6, going into the chicane and pushing the British driver off the track. The Mercedes driver is thus forced to cut the corner, maintaining the leadership.

 

Verstappen remained behind Hamilton, and inevitably the first controversy began regarding the potential return of the British driver's position in favour of the Dutchman. Carlos Sainz Jr., meanwhile, overtook Norris, and Tsunoda overtook Bottas. On lap 3, race officials announced that an investigation into the incident involving Hamilton and Verstappen was not necessary, so the two title contenders continued with the Brit already 1.4 seconds ahead. At the same time, communication begins to open up between team principals Toto Wolff and Christian Horner and Micheal Masi. In the meantime, Charles Leclerc tried to overtake Lando Norris, but the move failed and the Monegasque driver remained behind the McLaren driver.

 

On lap four Lewis Hamilton managed to keep his rival out of the DRS zone, and by lap five the gap had increased to two seconds. Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, dropped to eighth while Sergio Perez remained third, but far behind two of the frontrunners. On lap seven the Red Bull team continued to put pressure on Race Director Michael Masi for the incident at Turn 6 on lap one. Michael Masi, however, stands by his decision not to proceed with an investigation. On lap eight Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap, increasing the gap even further. Meanwhile Christian Horner continued to talk about a lack of consistency from the FIA.

 

On lap nine, Max Verstappen began to suffer from heavy wear on his rear tyres, ensuring Lewis Hamilton increased his lead over his Dutch rival. By lap 11, the gap had increased to 4.2 seconds. Lap 12 ended with another record time set by Lewis Hamilton, who now had a margin of almost five seconds on Verstappen, who was in a big crisis with his rear tyres. The Dutchman complains on the radio that he has no more depth in his rear tyres. So, at the end of lap 13, Max Verstappen pitted. The mechanics mounted Hard tyres and the Dutchman returned to the track risking contact with Charles Leclerc, who blocked the front left tyre and went out into the run-off.

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Yuki Tsunoda took advantage of this and overtook Charles Leclerc, who didn't take it lying down and joined the Japanese driver to regain his lost position. The Monegasque immediately tried to overtake, but the Japanese driver resisted the attack. Later, however, with the second attempt the Monegasque manages to regain the position lost earlier. Max Verstappen came back in behind Lando Norris, but the Dutchman immediately overtook him on the straight opposite the pits. In response to his rival's move, the Mercedes team's men called Lewis Hamilton into the pits to cover themselves from a possible undercut by fitting Hard tyres. The pit stop is 0.3 seconds slower than the one made by the Red Bull team and the British driver re-enters the track behind Sergio Perez, who is now the race leader.

 

A few moments later Yuki Tsunoda overtakes Charles Leclerc again, while the Red Bull team tells Perez that plan-B will be implemented. The Mexican has a ten-second lead over Lewis Hamilton. On lap 16, Charles Leclerc pits for Hard tyres but his stop is a little slow, by 3.4 seconds. The Monegasque rejoined the track in sixteenth position. Ocon also pitted, making a 2.7 second pit stop and returning to the track in eighteenth position. Meanwhile, on lap 17, Max Verstappen was closing in on Carlo Sainz Jr., while Lewis Hamilton set another record lap. Norris and Giovinazzi also made their respective pit stops.

 

A little later Max Verstappen approached Carlos Sainz Jr. on the straight and took the entire slipstream, overtaking the Spaniard on the inside of the corner, but Sainz Jr. didn't give up, pulled a slight braking move and stayed in his slipstream to try and stay close to the Dutch driver. But there was nothing to be done, and the Scuderia Ferrari driver pitted. The gap between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was nine seconds. On lap 19, Sergio Perez has yet to make his stop. The Red Bull team's strategy is clear: they are trying to slow down Hamilton who, in turn, is catching up fast. On lap 20, the Mexican driver was checking his mirrors for the arrival of Lewis Hamilton, who was getting closer and closer.

 

Lewis Hamilton took full advantage of the slipstream and moved to the inside to pass Perez, but the Mexican crossed the line at the chicane, almost making contact. Lewis Hamilton takes the lead, but Perez pulls up alongside the British driver and opens the DRS wing on the straight. The Mexican points at the British driver's Mercedes and overtakes him, favouring the return of Max Verstappen who reduces the gap. The fight between the British driver and the Red Bull team's second driver continues. Perez does everything he can to slow Hamilton down and allow his teammate to get back into the race.

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On lap 21, Lewis Hamilton again took full advantage of the slipstream provided by Red Bull and moved to the outside, but Perez's defence was impressive. Verstappen, meanwhile, continued to close in. At the same time, Lewis Hamilton opens radio contact and begins to complain about Sergio Perez's proposed driving style, calling it dangerous. Obviously Max Verstappen took advantage of his teammate's action and reduced the gap separating him from his title rival to two seconds. Lewis Hamilton, impatient with what was happening, decided to take the inside straight and managed to overtake the Mexican, who now returned to the pits to make his pit stop. The Dutchman, meanwhile, thanked his teammate via radio:

 

"Checo is a legend".

 

With the track clear, at the end of lap 24 Lewis Hamilton set another record, and increased the gap to Max Verstappen to 2.5 seconds. The Dutchman's RB16B, meanwhile, suffers from severe oversteer. Communications with Michael Masi continue: Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff points out to the Race Director that the duel between Hamilton and Perez was unfair, but Michael Masi denies the Austrian manager's hypothesis, stating that it was a fair duel. On lap 27, Kimi Raikkonen's car hits the brakes; the Finnish driver damages his front wing after a contact with the barriers in Turn 6, and is forced to proceed slowly, until he returns to the pits for his subsequent retirement.

 

Thus ends the 2007 World Champion's career. On lap 26 George Russell's car also had problems: the gearbox locked in fifth gear and the British racer was forced to retire. Halfway through the race, it became clear that the drivers would have to return to the pits. It was almost impossible to finish the Grand Prix on these tyres. Perez was faster than Verstappen after his pit stop. On lap 31, Valtteri Bottas returned to the pits, and his mechanics changed to hard tyres. The Finn is back in ninth position, behind Leclerc. Only Gasly and Alonso have not yet made their pit stops, and so are in fourth and fifth position. On lap 32, Charles Leclerc misjudged his braking point and locked up his tyres, giving Bottas the opportunity to overtake him. The Mercedes driver opens up the DRS wing, but Leclerc manages to hold his position.

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On lap 33, Lewis Hamilton's lead over Max Verstappen grew to five seconds. While Scuderia Ferrari engineers congratulated Charles Leclerc on the great job he was doing in keeping Valtteri Bottas behind him, the Finn took the Ferrari driver's slipstream and overtook him on the inside of Turn 6. In the meantime, Antonio Giovinazzi is slowing down due to a gearbox problem: the Alfa Romeo driver stops on the track and the Race Director, Michael Masi, imposes the Virtual Safety Car regime. The Red Bull team takes advantage of the neutralization by calling both drivers to the pits, to make a tyre change, while Hamilton continues. Scuderia Ferrari's engineers also called Leclerc back to the pits to fit new tyres: the Monegasque returned to the race in twelfth position. Toto Wollf, meanwhile, asks Race Director, Michael Masi:

 

"Please, no Safery Car".

 

While Giovinazzi's car was still on the track, Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly pitted, while Hamilton, who in the meantime was approaching the pit lane entrance, decided not to re-enter. On lap 38 Giovinazzi's car was completely removed from the track, and Race Director Michael Masi decided to end the Virtual Safety Car regime. Max Verstappen was now 17 seconds behind his rival, but a record lap brought him to 16.3 seconds. On lap 40 a fantastic duel developed between Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard, however, after cutting a corner, gave up his position to the Japanese driver.

 

Max Verstappen's record-breaking laps continued, with thirteen laps to go he was 13 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton, who was in the process of joining a group of drivers to be lapped. Charles Leclerc gives way to the British driver, who finds Ricciardo and the two Alpine cars ahead of him. On lap 48 Max Verstappen made up a second on his rival, but the gap was still 12 seconds. With ten laps to go, Max Verstappen made up just another second. Lewis Hamilton is getting closer and closer to his eighth career title. Lando Norris pitted on lap 50 due to a slight puncture, and returned to the track in tenth position, while the Mercedes team radioed Lewis Hamilton to be careful on the kerbs. Verstappen was too far back and Hamilton was just seven laps away from winning his eighth world title.

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On lap 53 Max Verstappen found himself in traffic, and the seconds separating him from Lewis Hamilton increased to twelve. However, moments later the yellow flag came out as Nicholas Latifi hit the guardrail while duelling with Mick Schumacher. At first the virtual safety car was called, but a moment later Race Director Michael Masi decided to bring in the Safety Car. This happened after Lewis Hamilton had crossed the line, while Max Verstappen took advantage of the opportunity and pitted for soft tyres.

 

Peter Bonnington: "Double yellow flag coming out of Turn 4. Turn 14, sorry. Turn 14. Stay left, stay left. Safety Car. Safety car. Keep delta positive".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "Shit. Can't stop".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Negative".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Max, there's a yellow flag at turn 14. A car completely in the middle of the road, debris everywhere".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Safety Car. Delta positive".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Hold tight on turn 14. Box. Stop confirmed. Strat 12 in pit lane".

 

In the meantime, the Mercedes mechanics also come out but Lewis Hamilton does not return. The margin is too little to keep ahead of Max Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton shakes his head. Only five laps to go. The British driver is very angry, and is expressing his feelings over the radio. But there is no guarantee that the race will restart.

 

Lewis Hamilton: "It's unbelievable, guys".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "What's the situation at the back?"

 

Peter Bonnington: "So the situation is that Verstappen stopped. He had a free pit stop. We would have lost the position. There are four laps to go when we cross the finish line. The group has to regroup and then they have to split the cars. So he might not restart".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "So he's right behind me?"

 

Peter Bonnington: "He will be when they've sorted out the whole [classification] order".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "On new tyres?"

 

Peter Bonnington: "Copy that Lewis. We would have lost the position if we had stopped".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "The Safety Car is going too slow".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Stay left, away from the debris".

 

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen asks his track engineer, Giampiero Lambiase, how many laps are left until the end of the race.

 

Max Verstappen: "How many laps are left?"

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Four laps, including this one".

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Perez also runs on Soft tyres, but on lap 55 is forced to retire. The Red Bull team, in contact with Masi, decided to retire the car, to prevent it from stopping along the circuit, prolonging the Safety Car's stay on the track. Carlos Sainz Jr. moved up to third place. No word yet on whether the race will resume or end like this.

 

Lewis Hamilton: "The Safety Car has to pick up the pace".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Copy that".

 

Peter Bonnington: "The pack still needs to regroup".

 

Peter Bonnington: "The Safety Car has to speed up. It is not at full throttle on the straight".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Copy Lewis".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "The Safety Car is not going full throttle on the straights".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Copy Lewis. Got it".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "How many cars are between us?"

 

Peter Bonnington: "Stay to the left. Five cars. The group hasn't compacted yet".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "How many laps left?"

 

Peter Bonnington: "It'll be three when you cross the line".

 

On lap fifty-five Nicholas Latifi's car is hanging from the crane arm, and is taken away. The race will almost certainly resume. But between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton there are a few lapped cars. On lap 56 comes the announcement from Race Direction that the lapped drivers, who are present between Hamilton and Verstappen, cannot split up.

 

Peter Bonnington: "The lapped cars can split now. So don't sway but stay on the line".

 

Peter Bonnington: "No sorry. They won't split. They won't be splitting cars".

 

Peter Bonnington: "We think they might restart the race that way".

 

Lewis Hamilton: "There's still debris on the ground".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Copy Lewis".

 

Meanwhile, Red Bull Sports Director Jonathan Wheatley asks Race Director, Michael Masi, whether there will be a race lap or whether the race will end behind the Safety car.

 

Max Verstappen: "The lapped drivers should get out of the way. They should double up".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Yes, they will as soon as the message comes through".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Stay on the line Max. These lapped cars have now been given permission to split. Stay on track and let them go...No, sorry. Cancel that. The lapped cars will not be allowed to split".

 

Max Verstappen: "Yeah, obviously. Typical decision".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "It's a classic".

 

Max Verstappen: "I'm not surprised, haha".

 

It is at this point that a controversial dialogue takes place between Jonathan Wheatley, Red Bull's sporting director, and Race Director, Michael Masi.

Jonathan Wheatley: "Clearly there's no need for these lapped cars to join the pack again.

 

Michael Masi: "I understand".

 

Jonathan Wheatley: "Now you need to let them double up".

 

Michael Masi: "Got it, give me a second".

 

Jonathan Wheatley: "That's the only way we'll have a real race on our hands".

 

Michael Masi: "Understood".

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What happened? Jonathan Wheatley, Red Bull's sporting director, finds the term any written in the regulations, which according to the sporting director's interpretation does not mean all the cars. By only splitting the cars between the two drivers, the race can be resumed before the fifty-eight laps are completed behind the Safety Car. The fifty-seventh lap arrived, still under the Safety Car. But compared to what had been said a few moments earlier, now the Race Director, Michael Masi, first announces that the race will be one lap but with five cars between them, and then makes a further announcement that stipulates that lapped drivers, who are ahead of Max Verstappen, can overtake Lewis Hamilton. Only the five cars between the two title contenders.

 

Peter Bonnington: "Keep working the tyres".

 

Peter Bonnington: "When you cross the line there will be five lapped cars between you and second".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Norris is the car behind. He's got medium tyres that are seven laps old".

 

Peter Bonnington: "They have now allowed the cars to pass".

 

Peter Bonnington: "They are letting four cars through".

 

Peter Bonnington: "The Safety Car comes back on this lap".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Get your tyres ready. Strat 5. You'll have the overtake button on each of the straights. One lap left".

 

Peter Bonnington: "Safety Car in turn 15 now".

 

While between Giampiero Lambiase and Max Verstappen there is this conversation:

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Keep working the tyres".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "So, all the cars in front of you will pass Hamilton. All the other cars behind will keep their position".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Everyone, up to Vettel, has been given permission to pass Hamilton".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "The Safety Car returns on this lap. Mode 1, Strat 1".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "That's it. Just think about the things you need to do".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Safety Car at turn 14. Racing starts again from the line".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Safety Car in turn 15".

 

And even Carlos Sainz Jr. is amazed, as he obviously understands that with only two drivers standing between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, he can't aspire to a better result than third place.

 

Carlos Sainz Jr: "I think it's unfair to restart the race. We should all be behind the Safety Car".

 

Riccardo Adami: "OK, got it".

 

Carlos Sainz Jr: "That would give a big advantage to some".

 

The five cars split up and Verstappen is on soft tyres behind Hamilton, who is on used hard tyres. More team radio follows, but this time it's between Toto Wolff and Michael Masi. The Mercedes team principal is incredulous at the Race Director's decision, and wastes no time in expressing his grievances:

 

"No Mickey! No, no, Mickey! It's so unfair".

 

But Michael Masi's response to Toto Wolff is chilling:

 

"Toto, it's called a motor race, OK?"

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At the start of lap 58, the Safety Car pits. Max Verstappen now has one last chance to become World Champion. After passing the finish line and the first corner, Max Verstappen - aided by the use of freshly fitted tyres - pulled alongside Hamilton and almost passed him. But he desisted and preferred to pull back immediately. Hamilton tries to stretch, while Verstappen follows closely. Hamilton tries to stretch, using the overtaking map, but his rival is able to stay close. Verstappen tried to overtake again in Turn 5, and this time took the lead. But of course Hamilton is not giving up. On the straight Max tries not to give Hamilton the slipstream, making waves down the track. At this point, Max Verstappen's track engineer, Giampiero Lambiase, to avoid a possible penalty, exclaims:

 

"Watch out for the waves. Watch the wiggles, stay on the line now".

 

But Verstappen's retort is fulminating:

 

"I was just warming up my tyres".

 

Hamilton is closing in, trying to get past his rival, but there's nothing he can do. Max is ahead, and there's no way to catch him. Hamilton takes all the slipstream and goes to the outside, they almost touch and Max Verstappen goes with him and keeps the lead. He has a clear lead. The crowd is in a frenzy. The two contenders face the final corners with Max Verstappen also suffering from leg cramps, but there is nothing more to be done. Max Verstappen crosses the line first and is World Champion.

 

Alex Albon: "Oh my God Max".

 

Max Verstappen: "Wahhhhhhhh".

 

Alex Albon: "You're World Champion".

 

Max Verstappen: "Oh my God. Yeeehhh. Yes. Oh my God".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Max Verstappen, you are the World Champion. The World Champion".

 

Alex Albon: "Dude you absolutely deserve it. Absolutely. You haven't had any luck. Not one bit".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Max, we're so proud of you".

 

Max Verstappen: "Oh my God you guys. I love you guys so much".

 

Christian Horner: "Max, you've been driving like a champion all year. You deserve it. We needed a little bit of luck. You got it and you made it happen. And we love you. We absolutely fucking love you".

 

Max Verstappen: "This is absolutely incredible guys. Can we do this again for another 10-15 years together?"

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Stay on the track, Max. Stay on the track. Man, all season long they've been trying to bring you down. All season long. The one little piece of luck. One little piece of luck".

 

Max Verstappen: "It all came down to the last lap. Unbelievable".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Enjoy it, man".

 

Max Verstappen: "Do I stay on the track?"

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Stay on the track. Do what you have to do".

 

That was the radio commentary in the moments after crossing the finish line as the engineers led by Adrian Newey celebrated. Max Verstappen recounts:

 

"On the restart I tried to stay close to Lewis, but when I crossed the line to start the last lap I started to feel a cramp in my leg. It's one of the most painful things that can happen, also because you press hard on the accelerator for a long time. You feel the muscle tighten up and become like a tennis ball. Of course the adrenaline helps because if it happens while you're just walking, you can't move. But there was no choice, I had to do it. So I was holding the throttle at full throttle and I could feel my leg hurting more and more. Luckily the fifth corner came and I went for the overtake. I had about three seconds off the throttle. Then there are two very long straights and, on the second one, where Lewis came back towards me, I could feel my foot vibrating. I couldn't control it because the muscle was having a spasm. If you analyse the data you don't see a very smooth throttle input. One more lap and I couldn't have finished the race like that. The stress levels were so high that your body probably reacts to it, but you can't give up".

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At the start of lap 58, the Safety Car pits. Max Verstappen now has one last chance to become World Champion. After passing the finish line and the first corner, Max Verstappen - aided by the use of freshly fitted tyres - pulled alongside Hamilton and almost passed him. But he desisted and preferred to pull back immediately. Hamilton tries to stretch, while Verstappen follows closely. Hamilton tries to stretch, using the overtaking map, but his rival is able to stay close. Verstappen tried to overtake again in Turn 5, and this time took the lead. But of course Hamilton is not giving up. On the straight Max tries not to give Hamilton the slipstream, making waves down the track. At this point, Max Verstappen's track engineer, Giampiero Lambiase, to avoid a possible penalty, exclaims:

 

"Watch out for the waves. Watch the wiggles, stay on the line now".

 

But Verstappen's retort is fulminating:

 

"I was just warming up my tyres".

 

Hamilton is closing in, trying to get past his rival, but there's nothing he can do. Max is ahead, and there's no way to catch him. Hamilton takes all the slipstream and goes to the outside, they almost touch and Max Verstappen goes with him and keeps the lead. He has a clear lead. The crowd is in a frenzy. The two contenders face the final corners with Max Verstappen also suffering from leg cramps, but there is nothing more to be done. Max Verstappen crosses the line first and is World Champion.

 

Alex Albon: "Oh my God Max".

 

Max Verstappen: "Wahhhhhhhh".

 

Alex Albon: "You're World Champion".

 

Max Verstappen: "Oh my God. Yeeehhh. Yes. Oh my God".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Max Verstappen, you are the World Champion. The World Champion".

 

Alex Albon: "Dude you absolutely deserve it. Absolutely. You haven't had any luck. Not one bit".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Max, we're so proud of you".

 

Max Verstappen: "Oh my God you guys. I love you guys so much".

 

Christian Horner: "Max, you've been driving like a champion all year. You deserve it. We needed a little bit of luck. You got it and you made it happen. And we love you. We absolutely fucking love you".

 

Max Verstappen: "This is absolutely incredible guys. Can we do this again for another 10-15 years together?"

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Stay on the track, Max. Stay on the track. Man, all season long they've been trying to bring you down. All season long. The one little piece of luck. One little piece of luck".

 

Max Verstappen: "It all came down to the last lap. Unbelievable".

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Enjoy it, man."

 

Max Verstappen: "Do I stay on the track?"

 

Giampiero Lambiase: "Stay on the track. Do what you have to do".

 

That was the radio commentary in the moments after crossing the finish line as the engineers led by Adrian Newey celebrated. Max Verstappen recounts:

 

"On the restart I tried to stay close to Lewis, but when I crossed the line to start the last lap I started to feel a cramp in my leg. It's one of the most painful things that can happen, also because you press hard on the accelerator for a long time. You feel the muscle tighten up and become like a tennis ball. Of course the adrenaline helps because if it happens while you're just walking, you can't move. But there was no choice, I had to do it. So I was holding the throttle at full throttle and I could feel my leg hurting more and more. Luckily the fifth corner came and I went for the overtake. I had about three seconds off the throttle. Then there are two very long straights and, on the second one, where Lewis came back towards me, I could feel my foot vibrating. I couldn't control it because the muscle was having a spasm. If you analyse the data you don't see a very smooth throttle input. One more lap and I couldn't have finished the race like that. The stress levels were so high that your body probably reacts to it, but you can't give up".

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In the midst of a questionable ending, the gentlemanliness of Anthony Hamilton, Lewis Hamilton's father, emerged. After shaking hands with Max Verstappen, he hugged Jos Verstappen, father of the Dutch World Champion driver, before leaving the two to celebrate the victory they had just won. A gesture that, in addition to enhancing the British driver's sense of sportsmanship, erased the friction that had arisen between Jos Verstappen and the Hamilton family. On the eve of the Abu Dhabi race, Jos had spoken out against Lewis Hamilton, saying that he only respected him as a driver, and nothing else. After the podium celebration and after being able to talk to dad Jos, girlfriend Kelly Piquet and all the Red Bull team's top management, Max Verstappen tells Jenson Button again about his feelings, underlining the incredible emotion of these moments.

 

"My goal as a child was to become a Formula 1 driver. You hope to win, to get on the podium. When the national anthem plays you want to hear yours, standing on the podium. To be here and experience it first-hand is really incredible. Especially with my father, the moments we lived, it all comes back to you. All the years we spent travelling for this goal. Now we're all here together and it all comes down to the last lap. For me it's crazy to see all these people, my team, my friends, my family, the people I grew up with from go-karting who pushed me to get to this moment. I even lost my voice. It's really all fantastic. I don't know what to say. The fans? To see them all here, but in every corner of the world where they came to support me, it's really incredible. To have this support has been incredible. I hope I can do this for a long time, also thanks to the support of my fans. Pressure? Obviously you are nervous before a race like today. But it's also just another race where you want to do well. Obviously the outcome can determine whether you finish first or second. But throughout the race I kept pushing and believing, even though it didn't seem possible. But sometimes miracles happen. Hamilton? He's a fantastic driver and an extraordinary opponent. He made life very difficult for us. I think everyone enjoyed watching these two teams race against each other. But it's part of the sport. Everybody wants to win. Today could have gone one way or the other, but we know that next year we will come back and try again".

 

But the real architect of Max Verstappen's victory is Adrian Newey, who - still emotional - comments:

 

"In a way we were lucky with the entry of the Safety Car. There's no other way to say it. When I think about it, of course, I'm biased, but Max deserved it. I almost had a heart attack from all the emotion I felt in a race like this. In the laps leading up to the Safety Car it looked like all was lost, so much so that we even started thinking about what we could have done differently this year. At the end of the day, we had the fastest car and the credit goes to everyone at Milton Keynes. Verstappen is an aggressive but fair driver. He is very easy to work with".

 

In short, Max Verstappen is World Champion, albeit in a rather atypical way. Or so it seems, since the Mercedes team, despite winning the Constructors' title, is obviously not satisfied with the controversial ending and is preparing an official complaint. The Brackley-based team has two complaints: the first is about the incident that took place under Safety Car, where Verstappen slightly overtook Hamilton, but returned to his seat soon after. The second concerns the fact that the lapped cars had not all split, but only those between the two rivals. Toto Wolff and team argue that the final classification is invalid, but that the previous lap's classification should be restored. Lap in which the British driver was leading the race. However, Christian Honer is confident in the FIA's actions and comments on Mercedes' decision:

 

"The decision to bring in the Safety Car brought Max back into the game. We needed a bit of luck today. I didn't understand why they didn't stop and change the tyres. We did and then at that point it was obvious Max was going to attack and he did. He is a very deserving world champion. I lost my voice between Turn 5 and 6, I was shouting that he was ahead. Congratulations to Lewis, he was a great opponent, as was Mercedes. It's a shame they made this complaint, but hopefully it'll be OK, I have faith in the FIA. I have no idea what it is, Max has never gone past the front, we've seen it a million times. We desperately needed a Safety Car, it was our only opportunity and we took it. We made the right decision in terms of strategy. Then obviously Max had to overtake and he did. I thought he was going to do it in Turn 6. But he did it in Turn 5, to make it even more difficult for himself in Turn 6. It's been a long seven years. Mercedes has been so dominant that nobody has beaten them during the hybrid era. We did it today with Max. I am proud of him and the whole team. Let's wait for the official result and then we'll celebrate. Oh, and Latifi will have a lifetime supply of Red Bull, like Petrov did in 2010".

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Sergio Perez did not finish the race having retired in the final laps, who points out that without this incident he could have finished second:

 

"First of all, as a driver and as a person, I didn't want to interfere in their fight, especially in a decisive race for the world championship. I just wanted to help out the team and Max, who, by getting closer, was able to implement his strategy. For his part, Hamilton had the race under control: he was inside the Virtual or Safety Car window, which would have made his race easier. I was on a very worn tyre compared to his and there wasn't much I could do to try and hold him off, but we managed to lose him a couple of seconds. Unfortunately we had to retire. Without that setback I could have finished second today, because Lewis was on old tyres and I could have gone for it as well. In the end, unfortunately, that's how things turned out. It's also a shame because of what we could have achieved in the constructors' championship, but I'm pleased and proud of the progress the team has made over the year".

 

The Mexican driver, however, also admits:

 

"To damage someone who is playing for a World Championship is something you don't want to do, but in the end I did it for my team. I'm sure Hamilton himself will understand that very well. I did everything I could even more than for Max, for my team. These are situations that life puts you in and you have to do it for them. In the end I was able to help him and that was important. I think those ten seconds or so that Hamilton lost were what decided the race".

 

Because, in fact, they did not allow Lewis Hamilton to return to the pits to change his tyres as soon as the Safety Car came into action. At the end of the race, during the celebrations, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, joking about the fact that without Nicholas Latifi's accident a race neutralisation situation would never have arisen, exclaimed:

 

"He will receive a lifetime supply of Red Bull".

 

For his part, Nicholas Latifi is mortified and apologises for what happened:

 

"It was never my intention and I can only apologise for affecting [the title race] and creating an opportunity, I made a mistake. We were really struggling with grip through that sequence of corners in succession and especially where I then ended up off the track".

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Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto also commented on the Mercedes team's position.

 

"I think it's normal for Mercedes to try this approach and protest. It's never easy for the FIA to judge: whatever choice you make, someone is unhappy. That was also the case today. For my part, I always have confidence in their work and how they approach things. There are people who won't be happy, it's part of the game, as is perhaps trying to redeem themselves if one judges certain things and wants to underline them".

 

In the meantime, Scuderia Ferrari itself finished third in the Constructors' Championship. The goal that Mattia Binotto had promised his fans was achieved. Unfortunately for Charles Leclerc it was not possible to defend his fifth place, obtained instead by his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. Lando Norris finished sixth in the standings and McLaren had to settle for fourth in the Constructors' standings. Charles Leclerc, after commenting on his race, congratulated Max Verstappen on winning the title:

 

"It's not really the way I wanted to end the season. I lost everything by stopping during the first Safety Car and could never really recover. Big congratulations to Carlos for his great driving today and of course big congratulations to Max for winning his first World Championship".

 

For his part, Carlos Sainz Jr. commented on his fifth place in the championship:

 

"Me better than expectations? I don't know what expectations you're talking about, mine were quite high but I won't say what they were. What I am sure of is that I'm very happy to have had a positive start to the season, which has allowed me to make a good development as a driver here at Ferrari. Then the end of the season was very good and I ended the year with a podium and a perfect race. Fifth place in the championship doesn't change my life, it's more symbolic than anything else, but here I was able to put everything I've learned in the season to good use, for example at the start with the tyres. 2022? Let's see what these new cars are like. From the simulator they look very difficult to drive. It will be very interesting, a completely new challenge: all the drivers will have to adapt. As soon as I start to find myself with this car they change it, but I'm convinced I can do a good job next year. I'm very confident and prepared for what's coming. If we are ready to fight for a World Championship, you have seen that I am ready".

 

The Ferrari team principal is happy with the result, but third place is certainly not the object of his desire.

 

"We have grown a lot since last year. We want to fight for higher positions, but it's fair to analyse this season for what it has been compared to last year, even though there was little chance of development. We scored points at every race, that's the important thing. The other aspect to underline is that we can count on drivers who bring both cars to the end and can always fight for top positions. This makes the difference between the constructors. We have focused on Carlos in this sense. We chose him because he is concrete and consistent in races, and he has shown that this year. I'm happy to be able to count on two strong riders. Personally I think I have the best driver pair from the point of view of the Constructors' standings".

 

He concludes:

 

"The podium is always nice. My thought today is that seeing others celebrating is never what I want. But we have to think about us, our season and what it has been. To finish the last race with a podium is encouraging, a good sign".

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The McLaren team is content with fourth place in the overall standings. Daniel Ricciardo comments on his performance as follows:

 

"We made up a position on the first lap which put us in a fight with the Alpine cars. I felt I had a bit more pace than them, but honestly they were very difficult to overtake. We tried to hold on, but with the Virtual Safety Car we lost positions. I think without anyone in front I would have had a bit more pace, which I couldn't do because of my position. That's what happens when you qualify a little bit too far back. One thing I want to improve next year is the Saturday performance, which would make Sundays a bit easier. Thanks to the team for their hard work this year. We've had some fantastic moments - Monza was the highlight, and I'm looking forward to implementing the progress we've made in 2021. Even before that, I want to go home, recharge my batteries a bit and get ready to get back into the fight for next year".

 

The Australian driver, having just crossed the finish line, had opened up in a team-radio - relating to the race finale - that was quite critical, in which he exclaimed:

 

"I'm glad I wasn't part of it, whatever happened. It looked pretty shitty. Congratulations to everyone, guys, and thanks for your efforts this season".

 

Lando Norris was more disappointed than his teammate as he finished his race in seventh position.

 

"I think I had a good race, overall I lost a little bit at the start, positioning the car wrong than where I should have. After that, the race was going very well, I was keeping up with the Ferrari, the pace was pretty strong, but then a puncture occurred which took us out of the race, losing points and positions because of that. It was just unfortunate, but the team did a great job today. I feel like I drove a solid race, albeit, again, unlucky. There's nothing we could have done, but I think we should still be happy with the way we finished the season. We weren't fast enough at times, but that's not due to a lack of effort. Thanks to the whole team for all their hard work. They have been unbelievable throughout the season. We still have a couple of days of testing before the break, but soon it will be time for a well-deserved stop and reset before next year".

 

Meanwhile Russell seems to be in a lot of disagreement about what happened on the last lap. In fact, the Briton posts this message in a tweet:

 

"This is unacceptable".

 

Later, the British driver adds:

 

"Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season. I have nothing but respect for him, but what has happened is absolutely unacceptable. I can't believe what we have just seen".

 

As for the Red Bull family, the Alpha Tauri satellite team finished the last race with fourth place for Yuki Tsunoda and fifth for Pierre Gasly. For the Japanese driver, this is his best career finish to date:

 

"I am so happy. What an incredible result to finish the season with. I think overall the car was really strong this weekend, but I didn't expect the race pace to be so good. In the end, it was a great day. It's crazy to finish the season at such a level: it's been a long journey for me to get back to this point, but I've really rebuilt my confidence, and it's nice to end the season with a result like this".

 

He then continued by congratulating Max Versappen:

 

"Huge congratulations to Max, it's been a tough battle all season and I think he really deserved it today. I also want to thank him for giving this great result to Honda, because it allowed them to celebrate their last year in Formula 1 in the best possible way".

 

Alpine concludes its constructors' championship in fifth place. Fernando Alonso comments on the final race at Yas Marina:

 

"It was a fun race tonight and to see the fight for the championship on the last lap was exciting. We started on hard tyres and, this time, we did well to benefit from the Safety Car. I enjoyed the battles with the AlphaTauri, and the two points are a good result for Alpine. We weren't that competitive this weekend, but we went on the attack, and the outcome is all thanks to the team. Now we need to reset for next year and make sure we have a good winter before 2022. I would also like to add my congratulations to Max Verstappen for winning the title. It was only a matter of time before he won the title and, beyond the luck in today's incidents, I think he deserved it".

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Esteban Ocon, on the other hand, was a regular performer, finishing ninth after starting from the same position on the grid:

 

"Congratulations to Max for winning the championship. It is well deserved. He has been great this year and I hope that one day we will be there to fight with him: that is our goal looking to the future. Regarding our race, I would say it was a good performance. We did well with the strategy we had set, switching from soft to hard with just one stop. Unfortunately we didn't benefit from the virtual safety car, and we lost two positions. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't: that's how it goes. I am very happy to finish the season with such a positive result. Thanks to everyone at Alpine F1 Team in Enstone and Viry for their hard work throughout the season. Let's keep pushing".

 

Aston Martin finished seventh overall. Lance Stroll's performance was even more disappointing as the Canadian crossed the line in thirteenth place, ending the world championship in the same position:

 

"It was a difficult race, and we weren't able to benefit from the late Safety Car because we weren't allowed to overtake. I didn't understand why it was like that and it was frustrating. It was too late to make up some positions and potentially reach the points zone after making the decision to pit. Thirteenth position isn't ideal to finish the season and to celebrate my 100th Grand Prix, but we've learned a lot this year and we'll need it to kick on in 2022. It was great to be part of Aston Martin's first year back in Formula 1, and I'm sure there's a bright future ahead of us".

 

Sebastian Vettel finished his race outside the points zone.

 

"I think we had a good pace today but, unfortunately, we got stuck behind Giovinazzi's Alfa Romeo for too long and that cost us precious time. When we didn't have anyone in front of us, the pace was satisfactory, but we couldn't do much. The Safety Car situation in the closing laps I think is unprecedented and we were unable to finish the season in the points, finishing eleventh. I also want to congratulate Lewis and Max because they both deserved the title this year".

 

And it is no consolation that he is the driver who has achieved the most overtakes: 132, four more than Fernando Alonso and five more than Kimi Raikkonen. The German driver comments ironically:

 

"What's the prize? A million pieces of candy?"

 

Provoking laughter from the Aston Martin box and his fans, who hope to see him fighting for much bigger prizes in 2022. And it certainly wasn't a good Grand Prix for Kimi Raikkonen, who reached the end of his career with a retirement in the last race. However, the Finnish driver is taking it philosophically:

 

"Sometimes in sport it goes like this, there was some problem with the wheel nut, so much so that I felt the first signs that something was wrong as early as turn 5, and then lost control at 7. I am happy. I can't wait to get back to the normal life we live outside of a race weekend, at home and with the family. Now I can actually plan something that is difficult to plan when you are in Formula 1. It's nice to have the freedom to spend time with your children and watch them grow up. Over the years thoughts of retiring have come up many times in my mind, they started a long time ago. As the years went by they became more and more insistent and in the end it was my decision to quit, although I had discussed it with my family several times. It's not that they told me anything in particular. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I'm sure everyone is happier at home: I'll be with them more. I want to have more time with the children, they grow up fast. I want to spend time with the family, do more things. For the children it hasn't been easy, for sure. It's complicated to be away from home a lot, and it's not the best thing for them. But on the other hand, since they were born the situation has always been the same, so they are used to it. However, they have been asking when I was going to stop for some time".

 

In the meantime, the decisions taken by the FIA are coming in. The first protest made by Mercedes, regarding Max Verstappen's overtaking of Lewis Hamilton under Safety Car conditions, was rejected at 10.14pm. In the document, the FIA explains:

 

"The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible. Having considered the various statements made by the parties. The Stewards determine that although Car 33 did at one stage, for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of Car 44, at a time when both cars where accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended (i.e. at the line). Accordingly, the Protest is dismissed and the Protest Deposit is not refunded. Competitors are reminded that they have the right to appeal certain decisions of the Stewards, in accordance with Article 15 of the FIA International Sporting Code and Chapter 4 of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules, within the applicable time limits".

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At 11:03 p.m. the second decision came. The second protest made by the Anglo-German team concerned an alleged violation of Article 48.12 of the sporting regulations. The Race Director is alleged to have split only the cars that were between the two contenders and not all the lapped cars. Mercedes went to the stewards, represented by Ron Meadows, Andrew Shovlin and Paul Harris, the team's legal advisor. Red Bull, on the other hand, sent only its sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley. This protest was also rejected. The official FIA document, drafted by stewards Garry Connelly, Felix Holter, Derek Warwick and Mohamed Al Hashmi, states:

 

"The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible. Having considered the various statements made by the parties the Stewards determine the following: That Article 15.3 allows the Race Director to control the use of the safety car, which in our determination includes its deployment and withdrawal. That although Article 48.12 may not have been applied fully, in relation to the safety car returning to the pits at the end of the following lap, Article 48.13 overrides that and 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. That notwithstanding Mercedes' request that the Stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the Stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate. Accordingly, the Protest is dismissed. The Protest Deposit is not refunded. Competitors are reminded that they have the right to appeal certain decisions of the Stewards, in accordance with Article 15 of the FIA International Sporting Code and Chapter 4 of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules, within the applicable time limits".

 

Meanwhile, FIA President Jean Todt commented on Twitter:

 

"Congratulations to Verstappen, Hamilton, Red Bull, Mercedes and all those who made such an exciting championship possible. A further lesson in the fact that it's not over until it's over".

 

It's not over until it's over, as Mercedes are not giving up and promise to continue their legal dispute with the FIA. Barkley's team will have until Thursday 16 December 2021 to present a concrete appeal against the decision of the stewards to consider the Safety Car procedure as legal. On the other hand, Red Bull is ready to defend Max's title in any way it can. Mercedes will appeal against the non-respect of article 48.12 of the regulations. According to this article, cars lapped behind the Safety Car must pass the safety car, which must then return to the pits on the next lap. However, Race Director Michael Masi warned the teams that the final race would be run in such a way as to avoid lapping behind the Safety Car by all means possible, in order to give the championship a racing finish.

 

In order to achieve this, Article 48.13 has been given precedence, according to which the lights of the Safety Car are switched off when the safety measures are respected and the race will restart at the end of the lap. Race Direction and the Stewards started the race according to article 48.13 of the regulations without 48.12 having been fully complied with. Then, they ruled that 48.13 had priority over 48.12 without explanation. While waiting for this diatribe to find an ending, Formula 1's Managing Director, Ross Brawn, takes a stand against both team principals of the two teams involved, guilty of trying in every way to influence the decisions of Race Director, Michael Masi, with their constant protest messages via radio.

 

"It is not acceptable for the team principals to put Michael under such pressure during the race. Toto Wolff cannot demand that a Safety Car is not put in place. Christian Horner cannot demand that the cars have to split up. That is at the discretion of the race director. We will prevent this kind of contact next year. The fact that the race was decided on the last lap is a highlight that cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, however, the protest takes some of the brilliance out of the final".

 

While waiting to hear the outcome of the appeal, the consultant of the Anglo-Austrian team, Helmut Marko, talks about the emotions felt during the last Grand Prix, and warns the Mercedes team, guilty - in his opinion - of being unworthy losers:

 

"The emotions started already at the start, when Max made the tyres skid in first and second gear and Hamilton passed in front. After that we couldn't keep up with the pace of the Mercedes on our tyres. Checo Perez was then phenomenal, as he helped bring Max up to speed, and even then it was clear that we needed to try a different strategy and so we came up with the two stops. At that point we needed a Safety Car and thanks to Latifi's Williams it worked. Race Direction decided not to give the lapped drivers the go-ahead, which is not in the regulations, and we had a problem with Perez's oil pressure and decided to pull him out so as not to risk him stopping on the track and therefore having the Safety Car stay out until the finish. The Safety Car came on at an ideal time for us, after all the bad luck we've had this year, the luck turned in our favour. The decision to restart the race on the last lap was unworthy of a World Championship. But certain protests and appeals are in the mentality of an unworthy loser. This is the attitude, this is the way the whole season has gone. No matter what happens, we are the moral winners, whatever happens. We continued to celebrate even after the two appeals, because we are the moral winners".

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An argument not supported by the fact that Max Verstappen himself confesses that Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff congratulated him on winning the World Championship.

 

"Toto sent me a message congratulating me on the season and wrote that I deserved to win; that was very nice".

 

As we await further developments in the affair, former Mercedes Motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug expresses his opinion especially in relation to the fact that the Anglo-German team, after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale, decided not to publish any comments through the media and social channels:

 

"It is clear that in some cases emotions can take over, especially when one of your partner teams causes the entry of the Safety Car: everyone knew it could happen, even if it is hardly likely. At that point, inevitably, all the anger comes out. When you lose like that, it still hurts five days later, and I've felt the same way. Mercedes didn't do anything wrong, they fought all season, but they still lost. Appeal hearings have rarely been won. I can understand that you can lose your head, but the fans don't want to see that. It's not easy, and it wasn't easy for me either, but to keep your mouth shut is a sign of greatness".

 

And finally he concludes by paying his compliments to Max Verstappen:

 

"Max has always shown that he can attempt overtaking that nobody else dares to do. I saw him years ago in Monaco putting his medium tyres up to temperature on a wet track. It's something very special, and it was the same with Kimi Räikkönen. Kimi's lap times were always, consistently faster. Max is super special".

 

One thing is certain: this season finale will be the talk of the town, regardless of the outcome of Mercedes' appeal against the FIA. Even David Coulthard, Formula 1 ambassador, is expressing his regrets about an ending that can only leave you bitter:

 

"Both Max and Lewis deserved the title, they were better than the other drivers. Unfortunately one of the two had to lose, but the ending was disgusting and will leave many fans disillusioned. In the future there needs to be clarity, it is not possible for new rules to be suddenly put in place and explained hours after the chequered flag. For everyone it is a kind of defeat the way in which a championship that has been truly exceptional has ended".

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While the opinions and controversies continue, post-season testing takes place on Tuesday 14 December 2021. Drivers test on track with the current season's single-seaters, but try out the new 18-inch Pirelli tyres that will be used during the 2022 season. These tests are also open to youngsters, as long as they drive appropriately modified cars. Nick de Vries, in the Mercedes, recorded the best result on this first day of testing. Second and third position for the AlphaTauri of Liam Lawson and the Alpine of Oscar Piastri.

 

Fourth was Pato O'Ward (McLaren), ahead of Guanyu Zhou who will be competing in Formula 1 next year in the single-seater produced by the Alfa Romeo team. Sixth the Red Bull of Juri Vips. Daniel Ricciardo finished eighth. Charles Leclerc is eleventh, behind Robert Shwartzman (who will drive the Ferrari of 2021, unlike the Monegasque). Third last position for World Champion Max Verstappen, ahead of George Russell's Mercedes. The newly crowned World Champion tests the new tyres that will be introduced in 2022, and at the end of the first day of testing gives his opinion on them:

 

"It was nice to get back behind the wheel, and it was also nice to feel the new tyres. Everything went smoothly, and there was no big shake-up around the tyres, which is always good. Next year everything is going to change, and the cars are going to be very different, so it's good to have the first information about the tyres. Today was a good day, coinciding with the end of a very long season, but also very rewarding. Now I want to spend some time away from the track".

 

During the first day of testing, the Red Bull team also took to the track with Juri Vips, who beamed:

 

"I've been looking forward to this test for a while. It's a huge privilege to drive a Formula 1 car, even more so a championship winner. It took me a while to get used to the speed of the RB16B because the pace is just crazy, but then it's like any other car: you get used to it and do your job. I had a little problem in the afternoon, but luckily everything went well and I was back in the car shortly after. I'm super lucky, first of all to be working with Red Bull, but also to have the opportunity to drive this car".

 

Among the rookies on this first day of testing was Mexican IndyCar driver Patricio O'Ward, who was summoned by the McLaren team to take part in these tests as a recognition prize after his victory in May in Texas.

 

"Today was fantastic. The car has exceeded my expectations of what it can do. The grip is incredible, especially in the fast corners. Definitely, in the morning, my head was still on my neck. But towards the end of the day, I really think what ended up limiting my ability to go faster was not being able to keep my head up to fully see where I was going. My head was really just looking down because I couldn't keep it up. It's a fantastic car, it was a great experience and I didn't want the day to end. I'd like to thank Zak, Andreas and everyone in the Formula 1 team for supporting me on this incredible day".

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The Mexican finished fourth overall, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who tested the tyres that will be used in the 2022 season.

 

"It was a good day of testing to close the 2021 season, spending some time on track with the 2022 tyre was really useful. We managed to learn a lot and collect a lot of data, which will be important for next season. There are still a few things we need to figure out before we go into the upcoming World Championship, but we are in a good position. Now I can't wait to get home, catch up with the family and take some time off before getting back in the car in February".

 

Also among the rookies is Robert Shwartzman, Formula 2 vice-champion, who is busy behind the wheel of the 2021 single-seater for the first time.

 

"I drove the car in the second half of the day, and I really liked it. I managed to complete the work plan with the team despite some red flags during the session. I also learned some new things compared to previous tests, such as the starting procedures, which was very positive for me. Overall, I was quite consistent in the various runs, which was one of the main objectives. A big thank you to the Scuderia for this opportunity, I look forward to continuing to work with them and hope to have more opportunities to drive the car in the future".

 

Like all official drivers, Charles Leclerc is also committed to testing the new Pirelli tyres for the 2022 season.

 

"It was useful to continue to understand the new tyre size, which is bigger than the ones we used until the end of this season. The wheels are very big and the feeling, through the tyres, is very different. The team has acquired a lot of data, which will be useful in preparing the 2022 car. Personally, today helped me learn more about these tyres, although I doubt that the feeling of this car will be the same as the one we will have next year, as it will be conceptually very different".

 

In conclusion, American driver Logan Sargeant also made his Formula 1 test debut in the Williams. These are his considerations at the end of the tests:

 

"The first day in a Formula 1 car was incredible, it fulfilled everything I expected and more. I want to say a huge thank you to Williams, because it has been the experience of a lifetime. The team did a great job preparing me for today and giving me the confidence to go out there, have fun and do the best I could. We did a race pace simulation, and I was able to make a lot of progress during the test. The first two laps were unbelievable for the level of grip and the power of the car, but I got used to it quite quickly and felt comfortable at the end of the day. It's definitely a huge step up from the Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars; the brake performance is much better and there's a lot more downforce. As for the braking power, I can say I've never experienced anything like it. The more you drive, the more you learn, the more you find your rhythm. At the end of the day I was also happy with the lap times I was setting".

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The second day of testing, which takes place on Wednesday 15 December 2021, sees the best time set by Robert Shwartzman, who completes 130 laps. Second and third respectively were Lando Norris and Sebastian Vettel, with 134 laps completed for both. Next comes George Russell with 82, Pierre Gasly with 149, Carlos Sainz Jr. with 151 and Fernando Alonso with 148. The last three positions are held by Guanyu Zhou, Sergio Perez and Pietro Fittipaldi, who completed 150, 118 and 123 laps respectively. At the end of these two days of testing, Pirelli's head of motorsport, Mario Isola, seems to be quite happy with these initial results.

 

"We are satisfied with how these two days of testing have gone and with the behaviour of the new 18-inch tyres with today we have definitively closed a development path that began in 2019 and has led us to have a completely new product and compound range for 2022. On the first day, we observed some graining on the front tyres, particularly on the softer compounds (which were also the ones most used due to the characteristics of the track), which generated understeer. After analysing the data from the first day, we saw that it was possible to reduce the front tyre pressure by 1.5 psi, and this improved the situation for the C3 compound in particular. But we have to bear in mind that mule cars were used and that the aim of the test was to give the teams the opportunity to collect useful data that could be analysed during the winter break. We will only be able to see the true values on the field at the start of the season when the new tyres will be used with the 2022 single-seaters, which have a completely different aerodynamic package, new brakes and use rim covers. Based on the latest simulations received from the teams, the 2022 cars should be 5 tenths slower than the current ones, a gap that will most likely be closed by the end of next season. We will still have 25 days of testing in 2022, which will allow us to refine the product for the following season if necessary. All we have to do now is wait to see the new 18-inch tyres in action on the new single-seaters".

 

At the end of the second day of testing, Russian driver Robert Shwartzman, first in the time classification, expressed his happiness:

 

"It was very good, I am happy and I learned a lot, which is always positive. During the test I was always improving and progressing, which is a very important thing. It was a great pleasure to drive for Haas today; it's a different team and it's a new environment, but it all went quickly. The team and the people around were nice and happy with what we did today. We ran different tests, which all had a good result. To leave the track with the knowledge that I was the fastest is the icing on the cake".

 

While Lando Norris, who is testing Pirelli tyres for the 2022 season, is looking forward to being able to take a break from work and enjoy his holidays.

 

"Today was another productive day of testing. It was really good to get a feel for the new tyres and understand more about how they work. We've gathered a lot of useful information over the last two days, and this data will help us work better over the winter break to hopefully answer some of the questions we had. There is a lot of work to do ahead of next season, but I am already pumped up. For now, though, it is important that everyone takes a well-deserved break after this long season. I want to say a big thank you to the whole team, here and at home, for all their hard work, and I wish everyone a great holiday to rest and recharge with family and friends before we start again at the beginning of next year. Happy holidays".

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Sergio Perez also tested on the new 18-inch tyres, completing a total of 118 laps. And at the end of testing, he admits:

 

"It was a really interesting day, the new tyres are quite different to the current ones, particularly in terms of what their behaviour is. Overall, I am pleasantly surprised. I know it's only the first few days, but one of the things we've been working on the most has been temperature management, and I can say they seem to be more robust in terms of overheating the surface. It was good to be out on track today and I have a good feeling with these tyres at the moment. It was nice to get back behind the wheel of the RB15, because it reminded me of my first ever day with Red Bull. And to think it was only at the start of the year, it feels like three years ago. It's been a long but enjoyable year, and I'm looking forward to spending some time at home in Mexico before returning to full speed in 2022".

 

Finally, Carlos Sainz Jr. also spoke about his first impressions from the Pirelli tyres:

 

"I'm happy with the number of laps we managed to do. I'm more tired mentally than physically, because at the end of the season you can be super fit, but in your head you have to stay focused until the end, because you're driving a Formula 1 car. Being able to test these 18-inch tyres was very interesting. There are obvious differences, but I would say that, overall, they are going in the right direction. From what I could hear today, I think it will require a change in certain aspects of your driving style. After all, we already knew that we would have to do that with the cars we will be driving next year, as they are completely different to the ones we used until last Sunday".

 

Thus ends the 2021 season on the track, but there is no end to the controversy over how it ended. Indeed, the FIA gala remains to be addressed, where the drivers who finished in the top three positions and the team that won the Constructors' Championship will be awarded. But in between remains the appeal of the Mercedes team, which could overturn the outcome of the World Championship. However, Max Verstappen is not worried about the risk of seeing the title fade away in court:

 

"We won on the track, where there are green flags, green lights, overtaking them on the track. They will never take that away from me, I'm not worried about the appeal and I feel I'm world champion. It can be annoying for the team to have to wait for the developments of this case, but we are having a good time".

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In what is certainly not an easy period for Lewis Hamilton from a sporting point of view, on Wednesday 15 December 2021 the Briton is the star at Windsor Castle, where he officially receives the title of Sir from Prince Charles. The appointment for Hamilton had come at the end of last year, but the solemn ceremony only took place on 15 December. Also present at the event was the Mercedes driver's mother, who became the fourth driver in history to be awarded this honour. The award is also linked to Hamilton's important off-track activities in the fields of inclusion and equality.

 

Nevertheless, Lewis Hamilton is maintaining his communication silence, which is in line with Mercedes' press silence since the evening of Sunday 12 December 2021. The team's last public communication came in the convulsive post-race stages, with the announcement of its intention to appeal to the FIA regarding its complaint about the outcome of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which was rejected by the race stewards. The latest message from Hamilton, who has over 26 million followers on Instagram, was posted just hours before the race at Yas Marina.

 

The Mercedes press silence continues as we approach the eve of the FIA prize-giving ceremony, which coincides with the expiry of the deadline available to the Brackley-based team to formalise the appeal that the Anglo-German team has shown it intends to present after the Commissioners' rejection of the complaint submitted at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix regarding non-compliance with Article 48.12 of the sporting regulations which states that all cars must split up and the race must be restarted on the next lap. Meanwhile, on Wednesday 15 December 2021, the Red Bull team welcomes Max Verstappen as World Champion in Milton Keynes, although the trophy will only be presented to the Dutchman on Thursday 16 December 2021 at the FIA Awards Ceremony. Christian Horner hopes that will be the case:

 

"I have not received any counter-indications in this regard, I hope that tomorrow Verstappen will receive the trophy and thus become World Champion permanently. Regarding the appeal, it's a matter for the FIA and Mercedes in the first instance, and obviously I will be notified of any developments as the Red Bull representative. I didn't get a chance to meet Toto Wolff after the race, but I did meet Ola Kallenius, who congratulated me and Wolff did the same via text message later in the evening. In Abu Dhabi, Verstappen became world champion on the track and we are extremely proud of that, our concentration is on the celebrations".

 

This brings us to the day of the FIA awards ceremony in Paris at the end of the 2021 racing season. The winners of the major motorsport championships organised by the Federation will receive their trophies at the gala on the evening of Thursday 16 December 2021. On Wednesday 15 December 2021, the FIA issued an official note certifying that the deployment of the Safety Car at Yas Marina and, above all, the restart, is a procedure that needs to be analysed in depth to avoid running into another similar scenario in the next World Championships. Mercedes will therefore have until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday the 16th of December 2021 to formalise their appeal against the stewards' decision. Susie Wolff, wife of Toto Wolff, team principal of Mercedes, made a comment on social media about the end of the Championship.

 

"Going in this final race weekend, I believed both teams and both drivers deserved to win. It was going to be a spectacle, an historic race that we all hoped would end without controversy. That wasn’t to be. What happened is still hard to comprehend and leaves me with a sick feeling. Not the losing - and not Max or RedBull - they are deserving winners and we always knew it was a strong possibility we may not win - but the way in which Lewis was robbed has left me in utter disbelief. 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 cant’t be changed on a whim by one individual t the end of a race. Lewis Hamilton, you have shown incredible integrity and dignity in the face of injustice. You are the greatest there has ever been. The outcome of the last laps on Sunday? Those who know, they know, even those who can’t quite bring themselves to admit it. Congratulations Max and congratulations to each and every member of Mercedes-AMG F1 on your record breaking eight constructors title - I hope by March of next year there is a governing body with sporting integrity and fairness at its care so I can fall back in love with F1".

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At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday the 16th of December 2021, Mercedes said in an official statement that it will not be appealing the decision of the stewards. The Mercedes team underlines that Lewis Hamilton had an active part in the process of analysing what happened at Yas Marina, where the Safety Car was used as never before. The team from Brackley also expresses satisfaction for the establishment of a Commission that will study how to improve the Safety Car regulations, also involving teams and drivers.

 

"Dear Formula 1 community and fans, we left Abu Dhabi in disbelief of what we had just witnessed. Of course, it’s part of the game to lose a race, but it’s something different when you lose faith in racing. Together with Lewis, we have deliberated carefully over how to respond to the events at the Formula 1 season finale. 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. The reason we protested the race result on Sunday was because the Safety Car regulations were applied in a new way that affected the race result, after Lewis had been in a commanding lead and on course to win the World Championship. We appealed in the interest of sporting fairness, and we have since been in a constructive dialogue with the FIA 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. Thus, we welcome the decision by the FIA to install a commission to throughly analyse what happened in Abu Dhabi and to improve the robustness of rules, governance and decision making in Formula 1. We also welcome that they have invited the teams and the drivers to take part. 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. To Max Verstappen and RedBull Racing: we would like to express our sincere respect for your achievements this season. You made this Formula 1 Championship title fight truly epic. Max, we congratulate you and your entire team. We look forward to taking the fight to you on the track next season. And lastly, even though this Drivers’ Championship did not end the way we hoped, we could not be prouder of our team. Lewis, you are the greatest racer in the history of Formula 1 and you drove your heart out for every lap of this incredible season. You’re a flawless sportsman on and off the track and you delivered a faultless performance. As a pure competitor and as a role model for millions around the world, we salute you. Valtteri, you have been such an important part of this team, delivering five Constructors’ Championships in five seasons. Thank you for your remarkable contribution to our motorsport history. Kiitos, Valtteri. Finally, to every one of the skilled and passionate women and men of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team in Brackley and High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth: you’ve written an historic chapter in the Silver Arrow story by winning the eight Constructors’ Championship - in a row. This is an unprecedented achievement. In simple words: it’s awesome. You are awesome".

 

Still heartbroken about what happened to his now former team-mate, Valtteri Bottas comments:

 

"Of course we wanted to get both titles, and to have won the constructors' title again is a huge thing. At the same time it hurts that Lewis didn't get the drivers' title. From my point of view, I feel like I lost the championship because he lost it. It was maybe not the best race to end this relationship, but you have to look at the big picture. We have won five constructors' championships. With Lewis we were the most successful pair of teammates in Formula 1 history, so it's a bit sad to leave. But of course I look to the future. I'm really sorry for him, because I feel he deserved it [the title]. He had a great start, a great race and then things turn around like that. But that's sport, that's the way it goes. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes they go right. This was not our day".

 

The Mercedes team therefore withdrew its request for an appeal. Nevertheless, the team principal of the Anglo-German team, Toto Wolff, specifies that neither he nor Lewis Hamilton will be present at the gala organised by the FIA. Only James Allison will be present, but only to collect the constructors' championship award.

 

"I am not interested in having any more conversations with Michael Masi. The decisions taken in the last four minutes of this race have deprived Lewis Hamilton of a deserved World Championship. His driving, particularly in the last four races, has been impeccable. On Sunday in Abu Dhabi he had a lead from the start. He got the better of the start and never gave up the lead again: to rob him on the last lap of the race is unacceptable. From a personal and professional point of view, my values are incompatible with the decisions taken on Sunday. And it is up to the FIA to decide in the future how these situations can be avoided. If you look at most of the controversies that have happened this year, they go back to sporting decisions on the track and inconsistency in enforcing the rules. It's one thing to drive hard and have differences of opinion between drivers and teams: that's part of the game. But inconsistent decision-making leads to controversy and polarisation. This has been the ground for a lot of totally unnecessary controversy on the track".

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The Mercedes team principal also explained his decision not to pursue the appeal as follows.

 

"Our arguments are very strong and solid. If you look at the case from a legal point of view, we would almost certainly have won if it had been judged by a regular court. But the problem is the way the appeal is structured. The FIA cannot give a vote on its own tasks. There is a difference between being right and getting justice. And I don't think at the moment there is any governance that can restore the result taken from Lewis before the last lap of the race. That's why, reluctantly, we decided not to appeal: we wouldn't have achieved anything. Now I think we have the right tools in our hands to make sure that the decision-making process is better in the future and we will be watching to make sure that the FIA and the decision-makers make Formula 1 and the decision-making process more robust and consistent. To be honest, to this day I still don't understand what happened. For me it is still a surreal situation. At 6:27 p.m. the correct decision had been made, that no car would split: four minutes later, out of nowhere, suddenly five cars were allowed to split, and they were the ones between Lewis and Max. Ten seconds later they decided that the Safety Car would return to the pits with a full lap to go. For me this is still a nightmare. That's why I was in total disbelief on Sunday and still am today. The restart was a freestyle reading of the regulations, and it made Lewis Hamilton an easy target".

 

And indeed, the general secretary of motor sport himself, Peter Bayer, will point out:

 

"What would have happened if the protest had reached the Court of Appeal? I think the judges could have said: In the regulations it is different. The Race Director decided in that way, so we can only annul the result. But again, if the Abu Dhabi race had been cancelled, Max Verstappen would have been World Champion. The situation was far from perfect, which is why we are working on it. It's also about having respect for the Race Director. My job is to look ahead and figure out how to improve things".

 

Finally, Wolff issues an alarming warning:

 

"I sincerely hope Lewis continues to race because he is the greatest driver of all time. In the last four races he has been dominant, there wasn't even a doubt about who could win the race. And that was worthy of a title. I think as a driver his heart suggests he should continue because he's at the peak of his career, but we have to get over the pain that was inflicted on him on Sunday, also because he's a man with clear values and it's hard to understand what happened. Both Lewis and I are disillusioned at the moment. Not with Formula 1, which we love madly, because the stopwatch never lies. However, if we break that fundamental principle of sporting fairness and authenticity in the sport, then suddenly the stopwatch no longer becomes relevant: we become exposed to random decision-making, and then it's clear that we can become disillusioned. On Sunday we realised that all the sweat, tears and blood we have spent this season can be taken away at random. It will take a long time to digest what happened on Sunday, I don't think we will ever get over it. It's not possible, not as a pilot certainly. We will never get over the pain and anguish that was caused on Sunday. Many of the values and beliefs we believe in were kicked around on Sunday".

 

While the Mercedes team principal is venting his frustration through the media, a press conference is taking place in Paris ahead of the traditional FIA end-of-year gala. The event is particularly eagerly awaited after the hard-hitting attacks launched by the Mercedes team principal against Race Director Michael Masi and the FIA itself. In front of the press were Max Verstappen, Christian Horner and FIA President Jean Todt, who declared:

 

"I suggested that we have a full review of what happened in Abu Dhabi and throughout the season, so that we can learn. I was reading the French newspaper L'Equipe today, and I read that the president of Lyon, an important French football team, has been disqualified for ten games for speaking ill of the referees. Perhaps we have been too permissive. The dialogue between teams, drivers, governing bodies, stakeholders and everyone else is important, but it must not go against us".

 

Todt also mentions the controversial first-lap duel between Hamilton and Verstappen, in which it was the Dutchman who felt defrauded by the race direction.

 

"Max felt persecuted after the first corner. It's part of a human reaction. But nobody is, it's a perception you have in the tension of the moment. Therefore, I think Max got what he deserves. It's true, he was very lucky in that last lap. But was he lucky at Silverstone? In Azerbaijan? Budapest? I don't think so. As Max often says, it is what it is".

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Max Verstappen, as the only driver who will be honoured at the press conference, given the absence of Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff and Valtteri Bottas - due to a flight from Hinwil, home of Sauber in Switzerland, which is being postponed at the last minute -, urges his great rival not to put himself down, thinking also of the seven titles already won during his career.

 

"I can understand that the first days, after a race like that, you are not happy, but he should also understand that these are races and that these things can happen. I think he should just look back at everything he has achieved. That should give him a lot of comfort and the push he needs to keep going. He's still trying to achieve that eighth title and he can do it again next year. So I don't see any reason to give up now".

 

Verstappen also admits he does not feel sorry for the Mercedes driver after what happened last Sunday, but understands his feelings.

 

"No, I don't feel sorry, but I can understand that it can be very painful. In the end, that's also racing. You just have to keep fighting until the end and know that in racing anything can happen. He won a championship like that too, I think he can understand it too".

 

Speaking during the evening's opening press conference, Horner celebrated Verstappen's success, recalling how during the season many decisions made by Michael Masi himself ended up favouring Mercedes and Hamilton, penalising his driver instead.

 

"We had so many decisions that went against us, like some decisions that were made in the race in Saudi Arabia. And also in Imola at the beginning of the season, where Valtteri crashed and [Hamilton] made up a lap and finished second. But it all balances out in the end".

 

Horner therefore credits Max Verstappen for his tenacity, which allowed him to prevail even when Mercedes took over from a performance perspective.

 

"As soon as we gave him a better car, he made good use of it. During the second half of the year, when we didn't have the fastest car, he kept us in the fight and he certainly deserves this championship. There was probably a gap of one or two tenths between the two drivers throughout the season".

 

Christian Horner also gives a lot of credit to the work of Red Bull's reserve driver Alex Albon, who made an invaluable contribution behind the scenes:

 

"He has put in an indefinable amount of hours late in the evening to fine-tune the set-up as much as possible, he has always supported the factory drivers and in the second half of the season he even coached Yuki Tsunoda. I'm really pleased that he'll have the chance to race again in 2022 with Williams. Like Sergio Perez, he is an under-celebrated hero behind the championship win. Perez has been outstanding especially in the second half of the season, accepting to be Verstappen's servant by offering him the slipstream at Monza, Abu Dhabi and fighting Hamilton on track in Turkey and Yas Marina. Without that heroic lap of strenuous resistance Hamilton would have had the window to make the pit stop and thus probably won the championship".

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And so, in spite of a surreal atmosphere in which representatives of the Mercedes team are absent, and in the course of the evening, outside the Parisian hall in which the FIA Gala is being held, a small black van with a big screen appears, projecting images of Lewis Hamilton's career achievements, accompanied by the hashtag #WeStandWithLewis, the FIA President, Jean Todt, awards Max Verstappen, crowning him World Champion.

 

"Tonight it is right to celebrate without talking about the controversy, what would be the point?"

 

FIA President Jean Todt does not dwell on the absence of Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton at the Award Ceremony, who were called to receive the prize. The scene is surreal: at the announcement, the presenters remain embarrassed in front of those present, while in fact no one enters the stage to retrieve the precious trophies. Article 6.6 of the regulations also obliged Lewis Hamilton not to miss Paris, but the British driver and Toto Wolff deserted the Gala evening in protest at the controversial Abu Dhabi finale. Jean Todt replied that Mercedes' eighth Constructors' title deserved more recognition and appropriate celebrations.

 

"I'm sorry in a way that we can't pay due tribute to such a great result as an eighth consecutive Constructors' title, but as I said, this is not the time for controversy. Verstappen has had an incredible season, I'd rather focus on him and the Dutchman's richly deserved celebrations than thinking about whether there will be any action taken against Hamilton and Wolff for their absence. Lewis is an extraordinary champion and has probably driven the best car without making any mistakes. It's just that Max has been just as impressive with ten wins".

 

FIA President Jean Todt, on the other hand, rewarded the work of Max Verstappen by giving him the World Champion trophy.

 

"When we got out of the cockpit at the end of the race, Lewis and I looked into each other's eyes and it was a moment when I felt great respect between us".

 

That was Max Verstappen's comment on stage at the FIA Gala.

 

"How do I feel? I'd say good, I've achieved what I set out to do in my life. I'm grateful to have had the chance to fight against one of the best drivers in history like Lewis. We pushed each other to the limit, sometimes even beyond, but that's racing. I'm looking forward to fighting with him again next year".

 

Asked to describe the last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Max Verstappen replied:

 

"I think if they had told me the night before I would have had a heart attack. I knew I had better tyres, also thanks to my team, which was always perfect in making the pit stops at the right time. Even if in the race we didn't have the pace to stay with Hamilton, as happened practically always at the end of the season, I never gave up and I would never have made it easier for Lewis. The Safety Car was obviously a stroke of luck, but during the championship I think I had a lot of bad luck. I set off to attack him but I got a cramp in my right leg, the throttle leg. It wasn't easy to bear, but there was a world championship at stake. Once I crossed the finish line I just screamed, I don't remember ever having so many people screaming in my earphones. Everything that comes next I consider a bonus, for sure I'll be racing several more seasons in Formula 1 with Red Bull as I said during the lap of honour".

 

The following day, Friday the 17th of December 2021, the mandate of former FIA president Jean Todt ends. The French manager makes way for Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who is appointed as the new president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile. The Emir of Dubai received 62% of the votes, beating Graham Stoker, who had been vice-president of the FIA under Jean Todt. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, 60, has a long career in rallying and motorsport politics behind him. In 2008, Ben Sulayem joined the FIA's vice-presidents and members of the World Motor Sport Council. He had already run for Federal President in 2013 and was a staunch supporter of Max Mosley. His successful candidacy could count on votes from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

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Obviously, Toto Wolff does not take kindly to the comments made by former FIA President Jean Todt at the previous evening's gala, and on the same day that Ben Sulayem takes up his post he responds by citing an earlier case in which Race Director Michael Masi had made a different decision. Indeed, on lap 44 of the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix, Lando Norris had stopped in the Dunlop Turn escape route and Race Director Michael Masi had ordered the Safety Car to enter on the following lap: the safety car had remained on the track for five laps to allow all drivers to split up, as the much-discussed Article 48.12 of the International Sporting Code prescribes. Wolff can't understand how Masi could have given two opposing interpretations of the same rule a year apart.

 

"How can it be that fourteen months ago at the Eifel Grand Prix the explanation given was exactly opposite to what happened on Sunday? At the time we were told that all the drivers had to split up, according to sporting regulations. Not only was the decision taken in exactly the opposite way, but a 180 degree different explanation was given to what happened fourteen months ago. If you decide to send the Safety Car out there are clear regulations. And the regulations state that all cars must split up before the race can be restarted. Only on the next lap, once all the cars have split, can the Safety Car return to the pits. None of this happened. Why was Sainz not given the chance to win the race? Why was the Safety Car called back into the pits against what the regulations say? It was an ad hoc decision-making process that caused this confusion".

 

Wolff makes it clear that he has nothing against Red Bull or Verstappen, whom he compliments in private:

 

"This situation has nothing to do with them. Max is a worthy champion, he drove in a fantastic way. Red Bull is a fierce competitor and I have the utmost respect for the people who work there. I would have liked to have sat here without there being any harm done to Formula One by unsportsmanlike and unfair decision-making. The FIA has to decide how to move forward. We have had a good dialogue with the Federation over the last few days. I am confident that we will formulate together with all drivers and teams the right decisions and actions to avoid such a scenario in the future".

 

The Mercedes team's protest proceeds through Lewis Hamilton's personal social media, detailing that on Friday December 17th 2021 he will stop following Formula One on Instagram, while continuing to follow several Formula 1 drivers, with the exception of Max Verstappen. The Mercedes team principal recoils, stating:

 

"It is an injustice that is surely on a par with Maradona's Mano de Dios or the 1966 Wembley goal. An inconsistent decision by the race director took the title away from Lewis. We could have appealed, yes, and we would have won in any court, but we didn't want to win the title like that. And then the FIA would have been both the defendant and the judge: we would have been in a powerless situation, just like on Sunday. I haven't felt like this since I was a kid. Lewis and I are disillusioned, our hearts ache. When the principles of sport are not respected and the stopwatch is no longer worth anything, you start to question whether all the work, blood, sweat and tears are worth it. Exchange of congratulations with Max? Yes, I can confirm that. He said: Thank you very much, it was a hard fight, I can't wait for next year. We also spoke to Christian Horner, he wrote me that it was a good duel and that we mustn't forget that we are eight times world champions among the constructors".

 

On the other side, celebrations continue. Jos Verstappen, Max's father and former Formula One driver, comments:

 

"We were in a position to attack because of the safety car, but the overtaking had yet to materialise. I think the team came up with a good strategy, calling him into the pits straight away. They did a lot of very good things throughout the season, and I think Max was the driver who really deserved the title. Max kept fighting, and he will always fight, that's in his DNA. He confessed to me that he was pushing hard every lap, and that he was driving at his best. At the end he had a chance, which he took full advantage of on the last lap. During the race I left the pits because I didn't believe in it anymore, but I came back on the last lap".

 

While Max adds:

 

"You look into each other's eyes, you don't say much, but you relate to each other and you really appreciate the fight. Sometimes we hated each other, but that's okay. That comes from the competitive spirit of both of us. He is an incredible rider. What was nice is that right after the race he came to me. We had our moments during the year when we clashed, but we really respect each other. We pushed each other to the limit. Most of the time, in all the races, we were on the limit of what we could do and what the car could do. The teams were also under pressure to make the right choices. We always had to give our best, otherwise we knew the other guy would beat us. We can look back and really appreciate that".

 

Finally, the newly crowned World Champion praises his track engineer, Italian Giampiero Lambiase:

 

"I told him, when he decides to stop in Formula 1 I will leave Grand Prix too, I only want to work with him. We have an incredible relationship, Helmut Marko finds the way we communicate amazing. He's the driver now and I'm the engineer, I want him to tell me on the radio when I'm being an asshole and I want to do the same for him. In terms of strategy I'm not afraid to manage it from the cockpit. If the tyres are finished I say so and go back to the pits, where the tyres had better be ready, even if sometimes the team would like me to go one more lap".

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The accusations against the FIA call into question the validity of the entire arbitration system. Therefore, not a day goes by before the federation's newly-appointed president, Mohammad Ben Sulayem, speaks out about the controversial ending of the 2021 season's Formula 1 World Championship at the presentation press conference on Saturday, the 18th of December 2021.

 

"Having been a driver myself I can understand that it is a time when I would feel a bit upset. But time is a factor, and thanks to that everything will return to normal by soothing the wounds. The holidays are near, Christmas is there, so is New Year. As a result, I have no doubt that we will be able to make a fresh start. I actually spoke to Toto Wolff, who confirmed to me that he would not be attending the prize-giving ceremony. I listened to him, but I didn't argue, and that's when he started to calm down. At that point he sent me some messages, telling me that it wasn't easy for a driver to live through those moments. The only thing I would like to say is that he broke some rules. As I promised, these will be looked at so that if there is a similar situation in the future, we will have an immediate solution for it. There are so many areas where we can improve. We can't just sit back and say we're OK. No, that's not good enough. When I had a meeting with the pilots, they realised that I am also a former pilot. We listened to them, there were some issues we discussed. We met with the World Council two days ago, and it was clear that we want to approach the new season with a different spirit. It is my responsibility to make sure that we all forget the past and look at the present, with the aim of improving. We are ready to do that. More than reactive, we have to be proactive, to improve in every aspect. I feel that there are opportunities to improve".

 

Despite the final victory, Helmut Marko, the Anglo-Austrian team's historic consultant, has not forgotten the controversies that arose in the Grands Prix prior to the last one held in Abu Dhabi and the assessments made during the year by the commissioners, which were judged to be slow and inconsistent. He therefore warns the new FIA president, Ben Sulayem, stating:

 

"We will think about our future in Formula 1 if this does not have the desired effect on the next championships. Decisions must be quick and unambiguous. It has to be a matter of seconds and these decisions should not be different every time. It is not our job, but after so many mistakes have been made and unworthy decisions have been taken, there is certainly a great need for change. There will be a new FIA president and he should start working on this immediately".

 

Nevertheless, Marko clarifies the Red Bull team's position on the Race Director's job:

 

"Should he stay in his post? Yes, the system just needs to be revised, there is too much weight on his shoulders. Also, team principals and team managers should not be allowed to talk to Masi during the race. Then the rules need to be simplified. The stewards have made a lot of decisions this year that have displeased either us or Mercedes in turn. We need to establish uniformity of judgement. Now it's up to the FIA, to the new president to work on a system that helps Michael Masi, because he can't do everything by himself".

 

Speaking about the hectic race finale, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner also continues to praise Michael Masi for taking the decision to bring in the Safety Car in the pits, allowing Verstappen and Hamilton to run freely on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

 

"The issue was to let them run. It was vital and that's what we talked about so often: let them run, let them run. The stewards and the race director made the right decision. They got the lapped drivers out of the way and there was a one-lap showdown. It was kind of a recap of this year".

 

In support of that argument, Horner adds a curious backstory:

 

"The Commissioners are not legal professionals and certainly being faced with a representative of a law firm of that magnitude can be quite intimidating. The last time I saw this lawyer was back in 2013 and the issue of Mercedes testing Pirelli tyres. He's not part of the team and so I hope the FIA will make it clear in future that you can't bring lawyers onto the track".

 

Finally, Horner reiterates that it was unsportsmanlike of the Mercedes team to completely desert the post-race ceremonies in Abu Dhabi:

 

"Not a single Mercedes mechanic was on the podium. Every winning era is bound to come to an end, they have won for eight years in a row, I found it really disappointing that they didn't accept the end of the championship".

 

Max Verstappen praised his team-mate Sergio Perez's handling of Lewis Hamilton during their duel at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

 

"He was brilliant, he defended himself brilliantly. It's really crazy the way he defended himself, and it's also thanks to him that I won the title. By the way, Lewis was very careful to attack. I already thought it was unimaginable to hold out for a lap, but Sergio did it for a lap and a half. I only saw the battle for a moment when I approached them. It wasn't dangerous driving, but tough at best. Once he was overtaken, he tried to overtake, but at that point there was nothing he could do about it".

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The days pass, but the controversy does not subside. Ross Brawn, General Manager of the Formula 1 product on behalf of Liberty Media, says that the communications between the teams and the Race Director, who inevitably conditioned the choices of Michael Masi, have been too excessive, prompting the team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, to stress on Sunday the 20th of December 2021:

 

"I agree with Ross, but equally I blame him and myself because we were part of the decision-making process to convey more transparency and entertainment for the fans. We wanted to give the fans the chance to experience the race through these moments as well, but I think we crossed the line. I have to reproach myself and Christian for allowing us to speak directly to the match director, fighting so fiercely for the interests of our teams. All of us went too far. This was one of the failures of this year: making the life of the Race Director complex under pressure from the team principals. We need to take a step back. Not even the sporting directors should exert any pressure. At the most, they should point out situations that the race director, or his colleagues, might not have noticed, but without putting pressure".

 

Toto Wolff also dismisses suspicions that a confidential agreement may have been made between Mercedes and the FIA:

 

"I think transparency is needed without behind-the-scenes deals being struck, and I'm sure the fact that most people in the industry share my frustration will ensure that doesn't happen. Everyone who has raced in their life knows exactly what has happened. We will all be pulling in the same direction so that in the coming weeks and months we can close the gap that has opened up over the last few years".

 

On Tuesday, December 21st 2021, Nicholas Latifi, whose unintentional mistake led to Lewis Hamilton's defeat, as he was left guiltily exposed - and therefore a victim - of the public's accusations on social networks, wrote a post on Twitter, showing his regret for what was happening.

 

"Hi everyone, I've purposely been staying away from social media to kind of let thing settle down from the events of the last race. A lot has been made of the situation that came about after my retirement in Abu Dhabi. I've received thousands of messages to my social media accounts - publicly and via DMs. Most have been supportive, but there's been a lot of hate and abuse, too. I've been trying to figure out the best way to go about handling this. Do I ignore it and carry on? Or do I address it and tackle the bigger issue that is sadly a reality when you use social media? This isn't some scripted statement, but rather me speaking my mind in the hope that this maybe sparks another conversation about online bullying and the drastic consequences it can have on people. Using social media as a channel to attack somebody with messages of hate, abuse and threats of violence is shocking - and something I am calling out. Going back to the race weekend, as soon as the chequered flag dropped, I knew how things were likely to play out on social media. The fact that I felt it would be the best if I deleted instagram and Twitter on my phone for a few days says all we needed to know about how cruel the online world can be. The ensuing hate, abuse, and threats on social media were not really a surprise to me as it's just the stark reality of the world we live in right now. I'm no stranger to being talked about negatively online, I think every sports person who competes on the world stage knows they're under extreme scrutiny and this comes with the territory sometimes. But as we've seen time and time again, across all different sports, it only takes one incident at the wrong time to have things completely blown out of proportion and bring out the worst in people who are so-called 'fans' of the sport. What shocked me was the extreme tone of the hate, abuse, and even the death threats I received. Reflecting on what happened during the race, there was really only one group of people I needed to apologise to for the DNF: my team. I did that right afterwards".

 

He continues:

 

"Everything else that followed was out of my control. Some people said I was racing for a position that didn’t matter with only a handful of laps remaining. But whether I am racing for wins, podiums, points or even last place, I will always give it my all until the chequered flag. I’m the same as every other driver on the grid in that regard. To the people who don’t understand or don’t agree with that, that’s fine with me. You can have your opinion. But to use those opinions to fuel hatred, abuse and threats of violence, not only to me, but to those closest to me as well, tells me these people are not true fans of the sport. Thankfully, I’m comfortable enough in my own skin, and I’ve been in this world long enough that I can do a pretty good job of just letting any negativity wash over me. But now I know I’m not alone in thinking that a negative comment always seems to stick out more – and can sometimes be enough to drown out 100 positive ones. People will have their opinions, and that’s fine. Having a thick skin is a huge part of being an athlete, especially when you are constantly in a position to be scrutinized. But many of the comments I received last week crossed the line into something far more extreme. It concerns me how somebody else might react if this same level of abuse was directed at them. No one should let the activities of a vocal minority dictate who they are. Events in the last week have made me see how important it is to work together to stop this kind of thing happening and to support those on the receiving end. I realize I’m unlikely to convince those who acted in this way towards me to change their ways - and they even try to use this message against me - but it’s right to call out this kind of behaviour and not stay silent. To all the fans and people that did have my back during this whole situation, I want to say a huge thank you. I’ve seen and read a lot of your messages and they are much appreciated. It’s nice to know I have so many people supporting me. Sport is by its very nature competitive - but it should bring people together, not drive them apart. If sharing my thoughts, and highlighting the need for action, helps just one person, then it was worth it. As we look forward to the New Year, I truly hope my experiences after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix help reinforce that message and my New Year’s resolution is to look at ways I can support that process. Just be kind everyone! I want to wish you all happy holidays, stay safe, and I look forward to all of us getting back on track in 2022".

 

In support of Nicholas Latifi, the Mercedes team shared the Canadian driver's post on Twitter and wrote:

 

"Stay strong Nicholas Latifi. We stand with you in the fight against online hate and abuse".

 

Even Lewis Hamilton shows solidarity with his Canadian colleague, despite the fact that his mistake actually damaged him.

 

"After Abu Dhabi I was threatened with death. I have broad shoulders, but a lot of the comments I received last week crossed the line. I am concerned about how someone else might react if they receive this kind of abuse. The events of the last week have made me realise how important it is to work together to stop this and to support those who receive these messages. In the days after Abu Dhabi I took social media off my phone. When I reopened the apps, I saw everything: the trolls are nothing new but the death threats crossed the line. Lewis sent me a message just a few days before I vented on social. Obviously I won't go into the details of what he wrote to me. I was also pleased with the messages of support from other members of the Mercedes team, as well as the support on social media from several colleagues. This is not the only case of online abuse of sportsmen and women, it also happened in the summer after the European Championship final, when English fans insulted the three players who missed penalties against Italy. This problem exists, unfortunately. Social media brings a lot of benefits, it gives people access to things they wouldn't normally be able to see. But, at the same time, there are these negative sides".

 

The Canadian driver concludes, stating that he even had to hire a security service, to avoid possible attacks on his person:

 

"Hire security officers? Yes. To be honest it was something that we considered for some may seem stupid, but in the end you never know how serious people are. All it takes is a drunk fan at the airport, or someone having a bad day, intoxicated or under the influence of something and having these extreme views. All it takes is that one person in a million. I came back to London after the race, and I had some confidence with me when I was doing certain things. I went to Winter Wonderland with my girlfriend and I had a bit of confidence with me. It sounds silly, but we took the threats seriously because you never really know what can happen. It's an unfortunate part of the world we live in".

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On the other hand, even the Race Director himself, Michael Masi, although not present on any social platform, is shocked by the public's fury towards him, as explained by the FIA's General Secretary for Motorsport, Peter Bayer:

 

"Clearly as a sporting referee, you rarely get any certificates of sympathy. What has become unbearable are the reactions on the social networks, which stop at nothing, as could be seen with the death threats received by Nicholas Latifi. Michael Masi has no social media accounts, but the hostility he has received from the public has hurt him deeply. In our talks I have assured him that he has the support of the FIA. We want to continue to work with him, but we also need his help in the investigation of what happened".

 

The controversy has not abated over the Christmas holidays either. And so, if on the one hand Lewis Hamilton avoids talking, consequently making people talk about him, on the other Max Verstappen does not miss an opportunity to fuel the tension that has been going on since the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, declaring - on Friday 25 December 2021 - that he will not change his driving style, often considered too aggressive by the race commissioners.

 

"I probably won't change my style, I just have to make them understand that I am an energetic driver, but I have a very good relationship with them. When I find myself in their offices, it's not that I don't like them as people. I go there and we have a nice chat, but nothing goes in my favour anyway. I can't say that I dislike them or anything; I just don't agree with their decisions. I believe that this is my guide and my philosophy is right, but I don't agree with a particular choice".

 

And he does not miss an opportunity to show solidarity with Race Director, Michael Masi.

 

"He does a very difficult job, people say he would need help, but we all need a hand from someone, myself included. He is a good person who does his best, and it is unfair to hate him or criticise him, because his role is a very complex one".

 

On Sunday 27 December 2021, it was instead Niholas Hamilton, Lewis' brother, who spoke about the delicate situation faced by the seven-time World Champion, during a streaming session on Twitch, denouncing the often stressful climate present on social media:

 

"I think he's just taking a bit of a break from social media, which I don't blame him for. These can be a very toxic place. But anyway, Lewis is fine, everything is OK".

 

Indeed, it is mostly people on social that feel betrayed by the most controversial finish in Formula 1 history. The more time passes, the more the controversy fuels. On Tuesday the 29th of December 2021, when confronted with the provocation raised by the social media communities of an epilogue that might seem like an invasion of the Netflix series Drive to Survive into reality, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff replied:

 

"I would never say these things because at the end of the day, we provide entertainment but the entertainment has to follow the sport and not the other way around. We love Netflix and Drive to Survive. Stefano Domenicali is doing a phenomenal job marketing the sport and Stefano, as a true racer, would have no interest in interfering in racing just to further the entertainment factor. I can't judge the pressures that the Race Director is under, but in any case, we are credible as a sport because it is sport and not wrestling. The rules are the rules, consistency in the application of the rules is important and no decision should ever be made contrary to the rules just to make the action on the track more exciting".

 

The FIA, meanwhile, is taking its time. With delegates having been on holiday for a fortnight, it is the president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, Mohammad Ben Sulayem who speaks on Sunday the 2nd of January 2022, effectively stalling on any decisions:

 

"I was only elected a fortnight ago and I am still studying what has happened. Formula 1 is a dynamic sport and we have to be dynamic as well, active rather than reactive. The rules have to be adapted. Regulations are not God's book, they can be improved".

 

In doing so, the FIA gives Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff the opportunity to emphasise that it is the federation's entire decision-making method that needs to change, not just the Race Director:

 

"I'm afraid it's not just an issue related to the change of Race Director: it's the whole system of decision-making that needs to be improved. I think the Director is certainly under a lot of pressure, and in some cases also due to our own faults. I would have liked to have seen more consistency, which could have avoided many of the controversies during the year. The last one, in Abu Dhabi, was just one decision, but it had the biggest impact. From a sporting point of view, it was catastrophic, because it decided the world championship. But now you can say that the whole season has been conditioned by different episodes: at times we have been on the verge of suffering, while at others we have been luckier. I have faith that all of us together, the teams, the drivers, the FIA and the sport, can renew the way decisions are made to make the sport better. These situations, as painful as they are, are also a valuable opportunity to refine this category".

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Also supporting Wolff's argument is McLaren team CEO Zak Brown, who on Monday the 17th of January 2022 stressed:

 

"It is clear that some rules and their management are not acceptable in their current state. They are being exploited by teams for competitive advantage. Some teams have too much power, a power that must be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of regulations and the governance of Formula 1. This influence of the top teams, however, is not always guided by what is best for the sport. Yes, teams should be consulted and their perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But sometimes it has seemed that Formula 1 is governed by a few teams. Let's not forget that the teams have contributed to the regulatory quirks. It is the teams who have wanted to avoid at all costs ending races under a Safety Car. It is they who have voted for many of the rules they have complained about, and who have used team radio publication with the race director to try and influence penalties and race outcomes. Abu Dhabi was not an uplifting spectacle for Formula 1. It felt like a pantomime, not the pinnacle of a sport. I am confident that we will see more leadership from the FIA and Formula 1, and that collectively as custodians of the sport we will focus on the evolution of the discipline and not shirk responsibility when we have to make tough decisions".

 

On Thursday 10 February 2022 the F1TV channel Inside Story, made available to subscribers by the Formula 1 platform, makes public the dialogue between Jonathan Wheatley, Red Bull's sporting director, and Race Director Michael Masi. The reaction is vehement from journalists and the public. The sequence, unknown to the general public, is however known to the insiders, as confirmed by Damon Hill:

 

"I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but this is not new or only just coming out. However, hearing it again creates unease. No one, except Red Bull, will enjoy hearing it again. The question is: what is being done about it? I'll accept any ingenious solution. I think an apology is due to Hamilton and all the fans. But that won't change the outcome of the world championship. Sacking Masi won't change the result, in fact his staying on might probably be better for Hamilton".

 

In any case, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile confirms that this is not something unknown:

 

"We are aware of this video and it is already part of the investigation that has been launched".

 

The results of the analysis will be communicated to the teams on Monday 14 February 2022, during the F1 Commission. In fact, a whole month must pass before on Thursday February 17th 2022, at the same time as the presentation of the Ferrari F-75, which will compete in the 2022 World Championship, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile communicates through its president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem - via a 13-minute video, published at 2:11 p.m. - the decision to restructure the functioning of Race Direction following the evidence that emerged from the analysis based on what happened in the final race of 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Michael Masi is therefore removed from his post and replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, who will alternate in the role, supervised by Herbie Blash, Charlie Whiting's historic deputy for over twenty years.

 

In addition, remote technological assistance will be introduced, the communication between the FIA and the teams will no longer be broadcast on television, which will be more strictly regulated, and finally a clearer and more codified procedure on the splitting of the cars will be introduced: the Safety Car will be able to return to the pits once the message - the lapped cars can now overtake - has been sent by the race direction to all the drivers, while the latter must make all the necessary efforts to rejoin. Previously, the much disputed Article 48.12 (now 55.13) of the sporting regulations only allowed the Safety Car to return to the pits once the last car had overtaken the Grand Prix leader. The first to show his delight at the decision was Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who said:

 

"There was an initial shock in the team about what happened. I mean, it's Formula 1, we mustn't forget that, we don't talk about world politics. But for us living in this microcosm it was absolutely shocking. We have never seen anything like it. Lewis was clearly the best on the track that Sunday and had dominated the race. And that was taken away from him by the decision of one individual against all the rules. So it was a difficult thing to digest. I was never worried about Lewis retiring. It wasn't about the Race Director or anybody else, it was just that Lewis had to make peace with what happened in Abu Dhabi. For him it was about justice and sporting fairness. He needed time to reflect, he is back, he is strong and I see him in great spirits. He needed to clear his mind of what happened. I think the most important thing is to move on. There was a lot of discussion after Abu Dhabi, for the right reasons, because the finish was not at the level of a world championship. But the FIA opted for a new structure and we are happy about that".

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With a guilty delay, only on Saturday the 19th of March 2022, at the same time as the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile issued its report on the investigation into what went wrong in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale, which rewarded Max Verstappen who was able to exploit a loophole in the regulations by Race Director, Michael Masi: a human error, but one made in good faith.

 

Now all the cars will have to split up before the restart, and not just some as happened in Abu Dhabi, and the word any - present in the regulations - is replaced by all, since Red Bull's argument was that any does not mean all. In the FIA's public statement, it is stressed that a human error was made, the result of an act of good faith in an attempt to ensure a green flag finish to the race by making the most of the skills and tools available to fulfil a scenario that had been requested by the public and which saw the teams agree to try not to end the championship with a neutralisation. Finally, the FIA reiterates that the outcome of the 2021 World Championship is valid and cannot be changed in any way.

 

What remains of this controversial final, and of this 2021 World Championship that will be debated for a long time to come? Certainly the television data. For example, the relationship between the United States and Formula 1 has not always been one of total automotive integration. However, 2021 has sealed a significant figure on the impact of the Formula 1 product in the United States, especially in terms of television audience. During the 2021 season, 934,000 Americans tuned in to one of the three channels broadcasting Formula 1 Grand Prix - ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 - setting a new audience record that had stood since 1995. A figure decidedly in contrast with 608,000 in 2020, with an increase of 54% compared to a season characterised by interruptions and postponements due to the Covid-19 emergency.

 

Concrete proof of an increased general approval in the USA are the figures for the last Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Despite the time difference, 963,000 people tuned in to ESPN2 to watch the final act of the world championship. However, the biggest audience was for the US Grand Prix, with 1.2 million viewers watching not only the race but also 400,000 people cheering on the track over the weekend. Moreover, according to other global figures that have emerged in recent months, the average age of Circus fans has dropped from 36 to 32, with the United States, along with Mexico, China and India, increasing the number of fans who have been following the sport for less than five years. And an overall audience of more than 2 billion people at the last controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as admitted by Liberty Media CEO Stefano Domenicali:

 

"This is an important moment of transit, Formula 1 offers more and more interesting insights. The last Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the most watched global event, we had a global audience of 2 billion people in 2021, and it's quite a responsibility to manage this brand. In 2022 there will be a change in regulations and single-seaters, although it is difficult to predict even now whether there will be more competition for victory. Maybe not right away, but certainly the budget cap for the teams, which is starting to bear fruit, will allow those who are behind at the start of the year to catch up more quickly, and that is important".

 

There is also an important record for Formula 1 on YouTube, this time linked to the total number of views of a particular race. Before this controversial ending, in fact, the ranking saw the Monaco Grand Prix of the 2019 season at the top, with over 9.5 million views (figure updated to March 2022). In fact, it is now the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that jumps to the top of the list of the most viewed films, with over 17 million views (updated to March 2022).

 

This concludes the 2021 Formula One World Championship season, characterised by a challenge that had been awaited for years, which unfortunately ended amidst controversy. In the meantime, however, the Circus will reopen its doors for new challenges with the Bahrain Grand Prix of the 2022 season, which will include a regulatory change from a technical point of view. It is therefore hoped that surprises will be on the agenda, replacing the controversy of the season that has just ended.

 

Beatrice Merico

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