ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last race of the exciting 2021 Formula One season., ended many hours ago. But the result will not be known for days or even weeks.
Was that inevitable the 2021 Formula One season should be decided in the steward’s room, and if the International Court of Appeals does not do so? Maybe. But it was not inevitable that neither the team nor the driver would be the catalyst.
All the additions this weekend were about the possibility of a collision or behavior that was “unsportsmanlike” aimed at influencing the outcome of the championship.
That conversation came as a result of a warning from FIA race director Michael Masi to both drivers in his pre-race event notes. The irony is that you can say that it is now Masi who has influenced the outcome in a way that was not sporting.
I defend Masija a lot. I think he has an impossible job, and people look back on the days of Charlie Whiting through pink glasses. Whiting was wrong. Big, expensive, dangerous. But his demeanor and longevity have earned him respect in a way Masi has yet to achieve, and perhaps Masi’s openness to allow broadcasting and confrontation with the media opens up the potential for greater control than Whiting has gained.
And what I will continue to defend is that I don’t feel he was in any way biased towards one or the other driver during the championship. The fact that fans on both sides can vehemently claim that their driver was targeted by the FIA suggests that Massi was pretty close in terms of impartiality (if nothing else) because he annoyed both sides equally on different occasions.
And on Sunday night in Abu Dhabi, I don’t think Masi was trying to favor one driver or the other. As his radio message to Toto Wolff suggested, he was trying to let the two title candidates race in the final laps to decide who the champion was. It’s almost admirable. But the way it came about and the script it created leave it wide open for criticism, and both candidates for the title hurt.
And it’s just such a sad way to end this year.
Verstappen was hurt because he had to spend the first four hours as a world champion waiting for it to be confirmed, instead of celebrating freely, and now he has another wait to see what the appeal process will be like.
Hamilton was also injured because a race that looked like his was taken away in the last lap because Verstappen took full advantage of a situation that the regulations did not allow.
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Verstappen did nothing wrong. Hamilton did nothing wrong. Red Bull did nothing wrong. Mercedes did nothing wrong. They all played the hand they got, but whether that hand should have been split at all is what is now for such a controversial debate.
The only entity that could have done something wrong is the FIA’s race director – or control of the race as a wider group – and that’s just not the way this season should have ended. Don’t do it right.
Whoever won the championship should celebrate the biggest title in recent years. I dare say, maybe ever. The two absolute megastars pushed each other to the highest peak – and sometimes to the lowest of the lowest – during 22 races and couldn’t separate up to seven turns since the end of the entire season. That is extraordinary.
But for now, there is ‘TBC’ against Verstappen’s name, and Hamilton will certainly not get even 10 per cent of the pleasure he would deserve if crowned with a revoked decision.
I thought it was unfair to put so much focus on a potential collision between two pre-races, I even said that to both drivers. But they accepted it lightly, because everyone knew that aspect was in his own hands.
The way they raced so excitingly in the first and last laps showed exactly why, with millimeters between them at times but no contact. The clash was not the way neither of them wanted to win.
But waiting so long for confirmation or retrospective proclamation of champions through the International Court of Appeals is neither the way any of them wanted to win.
This is not what neither of them deserves, nor are they alone.