Controversy ensued at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Max Verstappen beat Sir Lewis Hamilton to win his maiden Formula 1 championship on the final lap of the curtain-closer.
The pair entered the final round level on points following a collision-riddled season of racing, and the Dutchman claimed a stunning pole position on Saturday.
Off the start, however, Hamilton breezed past the Red Bull and eventually opened out what looked to be an unassailable advantage.
Even the sublime efforts of Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez to slow down Hamilton did not look to be enough to deny the Mercedes driver his record eighth F1
However, late in the race, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi collided with the barrier towards the end of the lap and brought out the Safety Car.
Red Bull pitted Verstappen, while Mercedes feared the consequences of losing track position were the event not to return to green flag conditions.
This left five lapped cars between the leaders and, due to the time constraints, race director Michael Masi ruled that no lapped runners would be permitted through past the Safety Car.
In an unbelievable turn of events, however, the Australian changed his mind and allowed only the aforementioned five runners to un-lap themselves.
As a result, Verstappen was able to pass his rival on the very last lap to claim his maiden F1 title.
This led to Hamilton feeling as though the race had been “manipulated”, and his team appealed the race result in the stewards’ room, but this was denied.
The Silver Arrows later withdrew their intention to appeal to race and championship on the morning of the FIA Prize-Giving Gala.
Calls have since been made for Masi to be sacked, but Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff does not believe that one change will fix the issues that exist within the FIA.
“It is not just about replacing the race director. The whole decision-making system must be improved,” he said.
“It’s one thing to drive hard and have different points of view between drivers and teams, that’s normal. But inconsistent decisions inevitably lead to controversy, much of it totally unnecessary.”
Mercedes EQ Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne agrees that the result in Abu Dhabi was very unfair, but he does not believe that Masi deliberately manipulated the race.
“I don’t think the result was manipulated. I just think Race Control didn’t want the grand prix to end under the Safety Car for the final decision of a championship like this, but there are rules to follow after a Safety Car,” affirmed the Belgian.
Labour peer Lord Peter Hain disagrees with this perspective, however, and is convinced that Hamilton was deliberately wronged for entertainment purposes.
“As a lifelong Formula 1 fan, I thought it was a perverted outcome. The finish was effectively rigged by the stewards in order to produce to a dramatic finale for the theatre rather than a racing outcome,” opined the 71-year-old.