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Home   /   Controversial racing lap decides 2021 Formula One World Championship

Opinion piece 

Written – 13th December 2021

The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was thrillingly unpredictable, sensationally exciting and completely unfair. Max Verstappen was crowned the new Formula One World Champion, the first Dutchman to do so, but it was difficult to understand how Lewis Hamilton did not reign victorious and become the most successful driver of all time to win an eighth World Driver’s Championship title. 

Hamilton was robbed by rule-bending officials, who wanted to give viewers a dramatic television moment. It wasn’t fair and took away the morality of sport, Hamilton was the better driver and deserved to win. Verstappen started the race in pole position after winning the qualifying battle, but Hamilton’s perfect start off the line accelerated him into the lead. 

Verstappen is known for his crazy and often dangerous driving, evidenced at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix when Verstappen made contact with Hamilton. His aggressive driving was evidenced in lap one at turn seven. Verstappen cut Hamilton off on the inside going wheel-to-wheel, causing him to drive off the circuit, sparking debate on whether or not Hamilton should give the lead back to Hamilton. This indicated there was going to be a battle until the end. 

Hamilton was faultless throughout the race, there was a tussle between himself and Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s teammate. Perez managed to slow Hamilton down through some efficient driving, but the Brit regained the lead on lap 21 and extended his distance ahead of Verstappen. 

With just five laps to go, Nicholas Latifi lost control of his car and crashed at turn 14. The crash took some time to clear off the track, resulting in a safety car and wiping out Hamilton’s 12 second lead. During this time, Red Bull decided to call Verstappen in to change to the quickest soft tyres, whilst Mercedes decided to leave Hamilton out and maintain track position with hard tyres he had on for 44 laps. In a conversation between Hamilton and his team, Hamilton said: “Bit of a risk to leave me out, no?”. 

The Mercedes crew believed maintaining first position was the right decision, but in hindsight, put Hamilton at a disadvantage on the final lap and eventually getting overtaken on turn 5 as Verstappen snatched the race. Since there was no indication that the lapped cars would end up overtaking, it made sense for Hamilton to maintain track position, however, if he had pitted and changed to soft tyres Hamilton could have had a better chance at winning the race. 

The calls from Race Control were controversial, but perhaps everyone should have seen this coming. Perhaps everyone did see this coming. The initial call from Race Control stated lapped runners could not overtake, but a second call halfway through the penultimate lap, gave lapped runners the green light to go ahead. However, not all lapped racers were allowed, just the five between Hamilton and Verstappen, bringing the pair into first and second position. The decision to do this in the penultimate lap after initially stating that lapped racers could not overtake, leads to the conclusion that a racing lap could have been chosen for a television moment to round off the season, instead of ending on a victory behind a safety car. 

On the day, Mercedes outperformed their rivals. In a live conversation with the Sky F1 commentary team, Christian Horner of Red Bull said: “The pace of the Mercedes is just too strong today. We’re going to need a miracle to turn this around.” At this point Hamilton was leading with a 10 second lead, cruising comfortably. Red Bull’s Formula 1 team principal had almost already admitted defeat. 

You can’t take anything away from Verstappen. The final lap manoeuvre to overtake Hamilton was precisely executed with a late break move, but on the day Hamilton and the Mercedes team were the deserved winners. There remains a sense of frustration that Hamilton was penalised for Lafiti’s crash. Losing a 12 second lead that would have seen him cross the line in first place comfortably, is a bitter pill to swallow. 

Despite the outcome, Hamilton delivered an incredibly gracious reaction after the race, showing why he is one of Great Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen. It was a bitter way to end the season that encapsulated so much drama throughout. No one knew how it was going to finish, but everyone watched until the very end. 

I was never engaged in Formula one prior to this race and after witnessing what I believe to be a rule-bending robbery, I am not likely to in the future.

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