After the chaos and carnage that was the end of the last Formula 1 season, it’s a fair question to ask how that has affected the new season.
Max vs Lewis
Let’s first recap how the season was looking for the top two drivers coming into the last race of the 2021 season.
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton had a fierce rivalry this season with both drivers causing crashes that had taken the opposite man out of races. The biggest collision being when Verstappen’s car ended up on top of Hamilton’s at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix.
It’s one of the best rivalries that we have seen in F1 in recent times. Some would argue it was even more fierce than the Prost and Senna rivalry. With both men taking jabs at each other on the track and off it.
All this led to lots of anticipation and excitement leading into the last race in Abu Dhabi. Verstappen and Hamilton came into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on points.
The race in Abu Dhabi
Whoever won this race in Abu Dhabi would be taking away the championship.
Verstappen entered the race in pole position after a great qualifying but had Hamilton breathing down his neck in P2 (starting second). Bottas, who is Hamilton’s team mate, started in 6th so was unlikely to be able to aid Hamilton in his goals. But, Perez, Verstappen’s team mate started in fourth so was likely to be able to have an impact on the race.
The race began and Hamilton got the best start, taking the lead into the first corner. Verstappen wasn’t to be outdone though as he made an attempt to overtake on turn 9. This attempt forced Hamilton off the track but he came back on ahead of Verstappen. This was the first major controversy in the race. Red Bull complained that Hamilton had gained an unfair advantage by going off the track. The FIA took no action.
Hamilton led for the majority of the race – the Mercedes team didn’t feel the need to take a second pitstop during the race so that he could maintain a large lead of over 12 seconds. Meanwhile, Verstappen had taken a second pitstop and changed to soft tires. This gave him an advantage over Hamilton.
With only a few laps left it looked like a masterstroke by Mercedes. Verstappen had cut down the lead but not enough due to five lapped cars being between the drivers.
This was until the second to last lap where there was a major crash resulting in the safety car being deployed. In the normal season this would mean that the race would end under the safety car with no overtakes being allowed. This would gift the championship to Hamilton and result in a bit of a damp squib.
This didn’t happen though. Michael Masi, the head of the FIA, decided on taking a different action. The safety car was used for one lap, the lapped cars got told to unlap themselves. This meant that Verstappen would be right behind Hamilton.
He then opted for a standing start with Hamilton in first and Verstappen in second, with no gap between them. When the race was restarted Verstappen, who had the fresher tires, took over on turn 5. Although Hamilton mounted an attempt to overtake on turn 9, the older tires meant this was impossible. Meaning Verstappen took the win and the Championship.
The FIA and Michael Masi came under scrutiny for dealing with the issue in a way that has never been seen before in F1. True, it was more exciting than ending under a safety car. But in reality, it completely decimated Hamilton’s lead of around 11 seconds.
Mercedes and Lewis were infuriated, as were a lot of F1 fans, even those that aren’t the biggest Hamilton fans. Michael Masi as race lead had abused his power and dictated the outcome of the championship.
What does this mean for the 2022 season?
Well, until a couple of weeks ago it was up in the air on whether Hamilton would come back for this season.
Rumours circulated as Hamilton hadn’t commented on the outcome of the 2021 season for months and Toto Wolfe’s (Mercedes boss) comments about becoming ‘disillusioned’ with F1 further fueled the rumours.
This rumour was dispelled as testing for this season came closer. It is now confirmed that Hamilton will be racing this season in an aim to win his eighth championship.
What about the FIA? Well they haven’t admitted to any wrong doing at the end of the 2021 season. Yet they have replaced Michael Masi as the F1 race director after a review of the controversial race.
Niels Wittich, former DTM race director, and Eduardo Freitas, WEC race director, will act as F1’s race directors.
Here’s hoping we see another exciting season with plenty of big moments but without the major controversy of last season.
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