After a few days of mixed emotions for racing fans, let’s take a look back at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and ask ourselves, was this a good or bad day for the sport?
This season, Race Director Michael Masi has played a larger role in the entertainment factor of F1 than a lot of racing fans might have liked.
We’ve been exposed to many discussions and altercations between himself and the team principles, which although at times have provided an interesting insight into the behind the scenes of the sport, have somewhat exposed Masi’s slightly ‘Laissez-Faire’ style to race directing.
A good example of this was in Saudi Arabia when Masi decided to begin a game of Deal or No Deal with Red bull over a collision between Hamilton and Verstappen, rather than passing the incident over to the stewards.
You might have thought that going into the final race of the season, with both title contenders on equal points, and with most controversies seemingly evened out over the 21 previous races, Michael Masi would have wanted to keep his head down, follow the playbook and allow the best man on the day to take the title.
It turns out that Masi’s biggest contribution to the season was to come in this final race after a decision he made involving a late safety car ultimately resulted in Max Verstappen being made world champion. It’s not that Verstappen isn’t a worthy champion; he won the most races, lead the most laps and drove a season deserving of championship glory. Lewis Hamilton, however, dominated the season finale and although it isn’t unheard of for a driver to lose a race despite being the fastest man on track, what happened in Abu Dhabi has never been seen before.
Safety cars are common in the sport and not very complicated (even when lapped cars are involved). Cars must follow the safety car until the hazard on the track has been cleared and once judged to be clear, all lapped cars must un-lap themselves.
The safety car will then return to the pits at the end of the following lap. If all of this cannot be completed by the end of the race, the race will finish behind the safety car. If these rules had been followed in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton would be an 8th-time world champion.
However, after a conversation with Red Bull’s Christian Horner, who pleaded with Masi to resume the race prematurely, Masi decided to let just the 5 lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton un-lap themselves and then ordered the race to restart immediately.
This meant that with only 1 lap left, Hamilton’s lead was cut and Verstappen was all over Hamilton like a pair of black and green Bottega Veneta boots. He easily overtook Hamilton due to a tyre advantage, won the race and therefore the World Championship, leaving the F1 community in shock over the manner in which it was won.
One thing we still don’t know is why the rules were not followed. As race director, Michael Masi is allowed to act at his own discretion but we have never seen a scenario where the rules are completely changed to decide a championship. Social media users around the world have made accusations of corruption, fixing, and manipulation. Did Masi want to create a spectacle for those watching at home?
Was he bored of Lewis Hamilton winning the championship every year? Did he let Christian Horner pressure him into making this decision? It is impossible to say. But what we do know is that this season will be talked about for years to come and unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.
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