The final lap of the Abu Dhabi GP

I will start here by saying that I am not a Hamilton fan or a Verstappen fan (I don’t dislike either of them, but I don’t support them either), and have been neutral in the championship battle all season right up until the final lap, when the injustice of Masi’s decision with the restart had me supporting Hamilton on that final lap. Despite the fact that over the whole season, Verstappen was the better driver, and had a lot of bad luck in the first part of the season, Hamilton was ultimately robbed of the championship at the final race which he should have won.

I think the key point is that Masi has the option to let all lapped cars through, or none of them. But nowhere in the rulebook does it allow the race director to let only some lapped cars un-lap themselves, and not others. The only possible reason why Masi would have decided to only let the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen through is that he wanted there to be an exciting end to the season, but under the actual rules there would not be time for that to happen. He must have thought that Ricciardo, Stroll and Schumacher would not have passed the leaders in time for the race to restart. Therefore, he deliberately went against the rules in order to create entertainment on the final lap of the season, and that does not fit with my definition of a sport. I definitely do not believe that Masi was attempting to hand the title to Verstappen, he was simply trying to create entertainment, and in doing so gave a huge advantage to Verstappen and Red Bull.

It has been suggested by some that Mercedes were to blame for not pitting Hamilton when they had the chance, but I disagree with this. The team knew that pitting Hamilton would drop him behind Verstappen, and so gambled on there not being time for a restart and left him out. If the race had been 59 laps long, all the lapped cars had been released at the end of lap 57 and the race had restarted on lap 59 with Verstappen passing Hamilton to win, I would say that it was completely fair and Mercedes had got the strategy wrong. But as it stands, Mercedes gambled on there not being time for a restart, and there wasn’t time for a restart, but the race restarted anyway due to a change in the rules, and so they lost despite using the correct strategy.

It has also been suggested that the race should have been red-flagged when Latifi crashed in order to have an exciting ending with a fairer chance for the two competitors, but while this would have been a better option than what actually happened, I still don’t think this would have been the right decision. In my opinion, red flags should only be used when they are necessary from a safety perspective, and that wasn’t the case in this situation, or in Baku when the late red flag was called. The reason for this is that safety cars and red flags always throw a large element of luck into the race, so should only be used when they are necessary. Throwing them in to increase entertainment unnecessarily increases the luck involved in Formula 1 and makes it more random who wins, which again doesn’t fit with my definition of a sport.

As well as this, these unnecessary red flags make it more random whether or not a race strategy will be correct. In the past, when an incident happened on track, the teams had to guess whether or not a safety car or red flag would be deployed based on the severity of the accident and how long it would take for the track to clear. Now, they also have to factor in how much the race director wants to spice up the race at that moment in time, which again is too random and increases the amount of luck in the sport. I accept that part of the reason for the many red flags in the last two years is because of an increased concern over safety, and that is the right thing to do. But part of it also is this focus on show rather than sport, which is not good for Formula 1. I think the randomness here should be reduced by reverting to rolling starts after a red flag, but the entertainment-based ones need to go altogether.

In terms of the right decision for the final lap in Abu Dhabi, I believe the best thing to do would have been to leave the lapped cars where they were and restart the race, as was originally the plan. That way, all rules would have been obeyed, and there still would have been a tense final lap of racing. And if Verstappen had still won having passed all those cars, then he would have won the championship without it being forever tainted by controversy. And the same would be true if Hamilton had held on, which is more likely. The other acceptable option would have been to finish the race under safety car, which would have been dull but fair. Then a red flag was the third-best, as it would technically have been allowed but I feel it would be a little too artificial. And what actually happened was very much the worst option; in fact, it shouldn’t have been an option at all.

Should Masi remain as race director? That is debatable, and as we don’t know for sure what was going on behind the scenes it isn’t really fair to judge. I don’t like the fact that he prioritises entertainment over sporting integrity, but I think Liberty Media want that from him and if his instructions from them are to pick entertainment when given the chance, then the problem lies deeper than Masi and replacing him would make no difference. However, on the other hand, the decision made in Abu Dhabi was sheer incompetence, and in that regard someone else, even someone less experienced, would be better. But again, we don’t know what was going on behind the scenes. We will also never know if he was actually influenced by the team principals whining at him over the radio, but whether he was or not, it will be much better next season when they are not able to talk to him during the races. I am not going to call for Masi’s head because I think it would be unfair to without knowing all the information about what went on behind the scenes on that restart, but I do think there should be an investigation by those who can make that decision into what happened so they can have that information before they decide. A more pressing decision that needs to be made is to scrap this ridiculous idea that the race should finish under green flags if at all possible, or at the very least that we will switch back to rolling starts after a red flag.

Without that final lap, 2021 would have been perhaps the greatest season of all time. Either Verstappen or Hamilton would have been worthy champions, and I think over the whole season Verstappen deserved it more, but Hamilton is nonetheless the rightful champion. It seems like a contradiction, but there is a difference. It is such a shame the final lap took away from what was a great season and I think an appeal from Mercedes would have been totally justified. Hopefully 2022 will be just as good a season, and right now I predict that Hamilton will win that eighth title that he should have won in 2021.

2 thoughts on “The final lap of the Abu Dhabi GP

    1. I do not see how and by which metric Verstappen can be deemed a better driver when for the first half of the season he had the car to compensate for his “bad luck” forcing Hamilton and Merc. to compensate for their lack of performance in the first half during the second half. It is a lot harder to play catch up, ask RB. The points don’t lie, both of them came to the last race on equal points , half of one for that matter. And wish I could shake the thought but I absolutely believe that Masi was trying his best to hand the tittle to.. hum…a “different driver”, I do believe that pressure to do so came from above him, witch does not absolve him in any way in my opinion. He his FIA and should not be in any way influenced by the commercial right owners. Standing his grounds (Nurburgring )would have not got him fired, caving in (Spa,Abu Dhabi) should.The new FIA president should see to it presto if he hopes to start on firm standards. As un-savorable as it would have been, I totally agree with you that the only fair and “sporting” solution would have been to follow the rules (duh) and let the race finish under the safety car. Favoring entertainment and keeping Masi doesn’t bode well for 2022. F.(antasy).1 here we come!

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