By Carol M. Creasey
The 2021 Formula One season will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. It is the year that the FIA brought themselves into disrepute by allowing their race director, Michael Masi, to make up his own rules.
Sir Lewis Hamilton had dominated the final race in Abu Dhabi from the beginning, in fact he had dominated the three previous races, because at that point in the championship, Max Verstappen had no answer for him. He looked on course to win his eighth drivers’ title, and to make history, until Nicolas Latifi crashed, and the Safety Car came out.
It would have been expected, so close to the end, that the race would finish under safety car conditions, but Masi decided that it wouldn’t be exciting enough. In addition Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was pressuring him for one more lap. Instead of making it at least a bit fairer by red flagging the race, and therefore allowing Lewis to change his tyres, he decided to remove only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen and proceeded to restart the race. This made Lewis a sitting duck and allowed Verstappen to easily come through on fresh tyres on the last lap.
Afterwards Lewis congratulated Verstappen, which was both classy and courageous, given the amount of conflicting emotions which must have been surging around inside him. Since then he has maintained a noticeable silence from social media, which has worried his fans, and fears that he may retire have been fuelled after Toto Wolff couldn’t guarantee Lewis will return in 2022.
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Of course fans of Verstappen have no sympathy, they’re telling Lewis’ fans to suck it up and just move on, but I would like to explain why that is not possible. Lewis knows how to lose gracefully, every time Max won he congratulated him, but he didn’t lose this time did he? The rules were not being followed and he was obviously robbed. There is a difference between losing in a fair fight, and being cheated out of a title… the latter is unforgivable.
And it’s not just fans of Sir Lewis who are continuing to be angry. There are other prominent people in many fields, such as Serena Williams and her husband, Samuel L Jackson, ex F1 drivers, pundits, and even Lord Peter Hain, who all publicly stated the FIA’s decisions were not fair.
I am not sure Formula One can ever recover from this unless they drastically change the way they are doing things. At the very least Masi owes a huge apology to Lewis. Verstappen has won a title in dubious circumstances, nobody can forget that.
I cannot imagine just how Lewis is feeling, but I do know if I was in his place, it would be hard to swallow the manufactured defeat. He started the season in a car which was not a match for the Red Bull, but he used all of his skills to stay in touch during the championship. By the end of the year Mercedes had begun to understand their car more, although even then they had engine reliability problems. Verstappen on the other hand had updates all the way through the year, until the very end.
None of this stopped Lewis. In Brazil he had taken on a new engine, served a grid penalty, and then proceeded to win the race in style. There was no stopping him now, he had to win the next three races, and the championship was his. Even the questionable overtaking moves by Verstappen, which mostly went unpunished until Jeddah, didn’t stop him. Nothing would have stopped him, he was in fine form, and to have it cruelly snatched from him on the last lap, after driving his heart out and overtaking his opponent right from the start on slower tyres, must have been heartbreaking. After all his years in Formula One, which has been a big part of his life, he must need time to make sense of it.
Can any of us make sense of it? I certainly cannot, and I truly hope this manufactured season has not robbed us of the greatest and most exciting race driver of all time. Sir Lewis Hamilton is unique, so the FIA may just have stabbed themselves in the foot!
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