By Leslie Sheila Miltown
“Cry More”, “Get Over It”, “Move On”.
If you haven’t gotten one or more of these catchy — and very triggering I must admit — sentences in your twitter mentions, it simply means that you have never criticized what happened to Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, during the 2021 F1 season finale, where he got cheated out of a historic record-breaking 8th title.
Much has been said and written about his composure and his grace in the face of what was, on all accounts, a grave injustice and the worst manipulation in F1’s history. In the aftermath of the events, it was a concerted effort from the sport’s heads, its governing body, its flock of journalists — well sold to the cause — to brush the narrative of the glorious conquest of a “new” champion*, whatever the cost, no matter the bad looks, and to the detriment of a very collected victim, who didn’t have the luxury to scream on top of his lungs how he felt at that fateful moment.
Hamilton then went on a social media hiatus, leaving people to speculate what his mindset could be. The ones tired of Lewis’ success — for whatever reason — as well as embarrassed media figures would urge the ones who continued to bring up the Abu Dhabi scandal to move on because “nothing could be done about it”.
Yet, fans’ understandable outrage, bad publicity and maybe Mercedes’ pressure — at this point it’s just me speculating — finally got something done. Michael Masi, the rogue race director and convenient scapegoat, was sidelined and essentially dismissed from the FIA. A very meager consolation, if you ask me.
The journalists and the beneficiaries of the cheating then relentlessly beat the drum: “Verstappen was more deserving anyway”, “the result could not, by any chance, be overturned”, “Lewis wouldn’t want to win that way”, or “Oh look, Lewis has moved on, why couldn’t you?”. But has he, really?
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Abu Dhabi in Hamilton’s own terms
It took some time for Lewis Hamilton to finally open the Pandora’s box of his feelings regarding the Abu Dhabi matter.
On the day of Mercedes W13 launch back in February, the most decorated driver of the sport asserted that whilst that experience — which he had no intention to revisit — was indeed traumatic for him, he would not allow it be the yardstick for his career: “There was a moment where I obviously lost faith in the system. But I am generally a very determined person and I like to think to myself, like whilst moments like this might define others’ careers, I refuse to let this define mine.” He nonetheless added that nothing would ever really be able to change the way he felt at the time.
In a lengthy interview for Vanity Fair in early August, the seven-time (read eight) world champion walked readers through a very intimate and poignant perspective of the event. He remembered: “You see things start to unfold, and my worst fears came alive. I was like, there’s no way they’re going to cheat me out of this. There’s no way. That won’t happen. Surely not.”
Hamilton then invited the reader within the epicenter of what must have been one of the worst moments of his career: “I don’t know if I can really put into words the feeling that I had. I do remember just sitting there just in disbelief, and realizing I’ve got to undo my belts, I’ve got to get out of there, I’ve got to climb out of this thing, I’ve got to find the strength. I had no strength. And it was one of the toughest moments, I would say, that I’ve had in a long, long time”.
Speaking to the always sympathetic journalist Vigneron Gaetan ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis gave more insights to his experience: “In that moment my world collapsed, I couldn’t compute what had happened, I couldn’t compute the emotions that I was feeling. What was happening inside of me was very hard to bear”.
The last straw came at the 2022 Italian GP when Hamilton, for the first time, verbalized that the championship result has been changed artificially: “It always brings memories back, that [those] are the rules, how they should be read. And it’s only one time in the history of the sport that they haven’t done the rules like that today, and that’s the one where they changed the result of the championship.“
All these outings don’t sound like someone who has moved on. More like someone who has moved forward, in regard to the unflinching determination of the sport to maintain a result that they themselves have admitted came about due to a “human error”, one that deprives him and hundreds of his colleagues of the benefits of his hard work. The sport as a whole just said: “Yes Lewis, we sc****d you, but we will not do you justice. Just move on with your life, and remember to nod and smile for the cameras.”
The romanticization of Hamilton’s pain, coupled with what the media figures call his “gracious response”, should not take away the enormity, the magnitude of the Abu Dhabi scandal. Time passing does not make it any less significant. Just as the RB18’s relentless stranglehold on the 2022 championship does not validate the diversion of the 2021 title from its legitimate owner. Mercedes W13’ shortcomings belong to the 2022 season, and this season alone. It can not serve as a way to justify a wrongful sporting result that is yet to be corrected. To quote twitter user @amal_shura, “There wasn’t a scenario where AD wouldn’t have become even worse in 2022. Even if the W13 had been seconds quicker than the rest of the field and Lewis galloped to a dominant title, it would still have brought AD21 back into the limelight because it should have been the 9th”.
Michael Masi’s dismissal was absolutely necessary, but it is definitely not enough. The stain that AD caused, the disrepute it places the sport into can never go away, no matter how many times Stefano Domenicali — F1 CEO — placates the record numbers of TV audience and grands prix attendance. The lack of trust from everyone, even those within the sport is obvious. Said lack of trust got encapsulated by a lively comment made by the latest FIA F3 world champion Victor Martins, who said, in regard to last laps penalties in the F3 championship title decider: “What went through my head was like ‘please, I don’t want the same thing that happened to Lewis Hamilton last year.”
It begs the question, what exactly is that ‘same thing that happened to Lewis Hamilton’ that should not happen to him? It tells that Martins, just like everybody else in the industry, knows that what happened to Hamilton in AD21 was wrong. They would not want it to happen to any of them. Yet, at time of writing the result still stands…
Is overturning Abu Dhabi results possible?
The 2022 Italian Grand Prix showed what the AD21 ending would have been, had the rules been followed to the letter. A very commanding drive by the leader, who had been fastest through and through, bringing his car in P1, behind — oh, the shock! — a safety car. Who would have thought?
The evident selective application of the rules has brought out all the FIA/F1 apologists in full force, to remark how anticlimactic an ending it was, proposing solutions to a situation that has never been an issue before. Their embarrassment as they tried to praise the abiding to the rule this time, is very well deserved, even though one can’t shame the shameless.
But the real question is whether the official result of AD21 can be undone and the title returned to the one who earned it under the regime of strict application of existing rules. The answer is, it depends… on the FIA’s goodwill.
An extract of the FIA international sporting code has circulated on social media since last Sunday, citing articles 12.1.2 and 12.3.5. Both articles are however taken a bit out of context. They’re part of the ARTICLE 12, strictly relative to OFFENCES OR INFRINGEMENTS AND PENALTIES. If article 12.1.2 sets the limitation time of prosecution at five years, article 12.3.5 states that the prosecuting body of the FIA may directly inflict one or more penalties on any one of the parties involved. It suggests the existence of a previous penalty which new penalties issued would eventually replace. These articles thus do not cover any overturning, lap voiding or returning to a predetermined lap order.
In AD21, Verstappen overtook Hamilton during the Safety Car period in breach of Article 48.8 of the 2021 Formula One Sporting Regulations. The stewards nonetheless concluded that “although Verstappen did ‘for a very short period of time’ move slightly in front of Hamilton, he moved back behind him”. Rules are rules they say… To the best of my knowledge, activating the article 12.3.5 by the breaching of 48.8 might be the one avenue under which a penalty could amend the total lap time, and consequently the race and the championship classification.
Circling back to the overturning matter, although the existing set of regulations does not seem to cover Masi’s actions, it is important to remember what the role of a governing body is, and how it should treat unprecedented offences — as a legal vacuum. As far as regulations can go, they simply can not anticipate all actions that might happen. But the sport’s regulatory body must, at all times, ensure equity and sporting fairness for all the stakeholders.
LEGAL VACUUM: (plural legal vacuums or legal vacua) (law)
A state of regulation that is uncomfortable by there being no conspicuous provision for a certain situation.
Synonyms ▲ Synonyms: legal void, legal gap, loophole.
In certain instances, the governing body might find itself in the position to legislate on never-seen situations, and then implement new rulings in its regulatory corpus. The governing body could also look at general principles of law, or jurisprudence in other areas, to adapt to the arising situation. So to say that there was no avenue in the rulebook to correct the result is an excuse not strong enough for an organization such as the FIA, were they genuinely willing to correct what they have admitted was a corrupted result. Furthermore, by the FIA’s own admission, without [the] human error, the race should have ended behind the safety car, guaranteeing Hamilton a deserved coronation. There is, at that point, no valid reason to oppose to restoring the race order to what it was before Masi’s intervention.
In the end, it falls upon the FIA’s integrity to #VoidLap58, because otherwise all it says is that they were, and continue to be, okay with the manipulation of sports results.
Examples of overturned result
The 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix: the win was initially awarded to Kimi Räikkönen, but following a post-race appeal by the Jordan team, eventually heard in court, it was established that Fisichella was leading when the race results were declared, and he was awarded the win with Räikkönen demoted to second.
The 2018 Canadian Grand Prix: Winnie Harlow inadvertently ended the Canadian Grand Prix two laps early, when she mistakenly waved the checkered flag on the 69th lap, rather than on Lap 70. The official race results were based on the standings through 68 laps, with the final two laps wiped from the record book.
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