Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen (Red Bull Photo)
Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen (Red Bull Photo)

KNUTSON: A Messy Conclusion In Abu Dhabi

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Formula 1 season came to a messy and controversial end at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

The final result was Max Verstappen being crowned world champion, while Lewis Hamilton was denied a record eighth championship.

With about 10 laps remaining, Red Bull boss Christian Horner said it would take “a miracle” for his driver to win the race.

That miracle came when Nicolas Latifi spun his Williams into the wall on lap 52 of 58, and that brought the safety car out on the track.

Until then, Hamilton had ruled the race in his Mercedes and Verstappen was 11 seconds behind in his Red Bull.

The safety car came out on lap 53. There were five lapped drivers — Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel — between Hamilton and Verstappen. Verstappen ducked into the pits for a new set of Pirelli’s soft compound slicks. Hamilton stayed out on the worn hard compound slicks that had been on his car since lap 15.

The F-1 race director, Michael Masi, originally said lapped drivers would not be allowed to unlap themselves, but then said only those five drivers would be permitted to do so. Verstappen, therefore, was positioned directly behind Hamilton.

The race went green on the final lap and Verstappen and Hamilton raced side by side before Verstappen went on to win.

Mercedes filed two protests. One that Verstappen had passed Hamilton during the safety car period and another that Masi’s decision to permit only those five cars and drivers — and not any others — to unlap themselves was not consistent with the regulations.

The stewards, including former F-1 driver Derek Warwick, dismissed both protests. Had Mercedes won either of them it might have resulted — depending on the penalties applied — in Hamilton rather than Verstappen winning the race and becoming the world champion.

As a result, Verstappen remained the winner of the race and the champion.

Hamilton congratulated Verstappen immediately after the race.

“Firstly, a big congratulations to Max and to his team,” he said.

Does Verstappen feel sorry for Hamilton?

“No, I don’t feel sorry,” he replied, “but I can understand, of course, that it can be very painful. But at the end of the day, that’s racing as well. You have to just keep fighting until the end and you know in racing that anything can happen. And he also won a championship like that, so I think he can understand that as well.

“Of course, I can understand that the first few days after a race like that you are not happy,” Verstappen continued. “But you should also understand that this is racing at the end of the day and these things can happen to you. I think he should just look back at what he has achieved already and that should give him a lot of comfort and it should also be that drive to just to keep on going because he is still trying to challenge for that eighth title and for sure he can do that again next year. So I don’t see any reason why to give up or stop now.”

Mercedes considered appealing the thrown-out protests, but eventually decided not to do so. But neither Hamilton, nor team boss Toto Wolff attended the year-end FIA prize giving gala.

“Every step of the way, it was joint decisions,” Wolff said. “We decided together with Lewis to protest, to launch the appeal and to withdraw the appeal. As you can imagine, not only for him but also for us as a team, it was terrible to be confronted with a decision that decided the outcome of the world championship. But none of us, neither him nor us, want to win a championship in the courtroom.

“But on the other side, we were deeply wronged and it wasn’t just a case of a bad call, it was freestyle reading of the rules and it left Lewis like a sitting duck.

“So as hard as it was to withdraw the appeal, or let me word it differently, it was tremendously hard for him and us as a team to withdraw the appeal because we were wronged,” Wolff continued. “And we deeply believe that in Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor racing, one of the most important sports in the world, justice is being done.

“My soul and my heart cries with every bone that this should have been judged in the right way and the legal situation would have given us right, but as I said before, the difference between being right and gaining justice, there is a difference between being right and obtaining justice.”

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