It’s been two weeks since that final Grand Prix weekend in what had been an epic season of Formula 1. I hadn’t written this blog post until now as honestly, I just didn’t feel ready. I couldn’t watch Max celebrating his win on that Sunday, and I still can’t watch those final few laps now. What we witnessed on Sunday 12th December was absolutely heart-breaking as a Lewis Hamilton fan, but also as a hardcore fan of the sport. We witnessed what can only be described as a complete f*ck you to anyone who is a fan of the sport for it’s true sporting integrity
Now, before I start this article let me say that I am taking nothing away from Max and Red Bull. Whilst I may not particularly like the driver or the team, I can appreciate the momentous effort they put in all season and I do believe they are worthy champions. Especially Max: the consistency he had this season was seriously impressive and he delivered under immense pressure and is a worthy champion. It’s just so bittersweet that it ended in the manner that it did.
For those who don’t fully understand, let me explain the situation for you. Latifi crashed on lap 53, which sent out the safety car. The accident wasn’t that bad, but there was a fair bit of debris across the track. I don’t think there would have been an outcry if F1 had red flagged and stopped the race, but they decided a safety car was enough. They sent out the safety car, meaning all the cars bunched up together in whatever position they were on the track. Lewis was first and Max was second, but Lewis had lapped 5 cars that Max hadn’t meaning there were 5 cars in between them. Max was able to pit for fresh soft tyres, whereas Hamilton was only on 40-odd lap old tyres as he could have lost track position if he pitted. Max had the advantage here.
It was clear it was taking some time to clear the debris, and they were running out of laps. In normal sporting circumstances, the race would have finished under the safety car- take Bahrain 2019 for example where exactly that happened. However, the FIA didn’t want the season to end under the safety car. Fair enough, it would have been a disappointing end to what was a fantastic season. But, it would have been a sporting one.
The abuse Latifi received is also very not okay, this man really did nothing wrong.
In my opinion, the FIA had two options here. The first was to let all lapped cars pass, allowing them a lap to catch up to the back of the pack, which would have meant it finished under the safety car, as there was only one lap to go. This is standard procedure for a safety car restart; all cars are allowed to unlap themselves and then given one lap to catch up to the back of the pack. Otherwise, you’ll have lapped cars in the way of the front runners and it could get dangerous (which is what exactly happened).
The other option would have been to not let lapped cars past and have one final lap of the race. This wouldn’t have been standard procedure, but it would have been an option for the FIA as it wasn’t illegal according to the FIA’s rulebook. This would have meant there was one lap of racing and 5 cars in between Lewis and Max. This would have been interesting to see if Max could quickly past the 5 lapped cars and overtake Lewis with a few corners to go. I think here there would have been a 50/50 chance of a Max overtake and would have been a very fair and exciting end to the race.
What the FIA decided to do, however, was a complete embarrassment and disregard of the rules. They initially announced lapped cars would not be able to overtake, and then after a call from Red Bull’s sporting director, they decided that they would let the 5 cars in between Lewis and Max unlap themselves. Almost immediately after the final car came past Lewis Hamilton, there was the announcement that the safety car was coming in at the end of the lap. The safety car came in, Lewis was a sitting duck at turn 5, and Max went on to win the race, and ultimately the championship. After looking like it was all over for him, Max overtook his main rival on the last lap to claim the championship. How exciting and dramatic, for the most dramatic season of F1 in ages, to be decided on the last lap. Amazing stuff, you’re probably saying.
No, it was not. The FIA broke two of their own rules at the safety car restart. Firstly, they didn’t allow all the lapped cars to unlap themselves, as there were 3 cars behind Max who also needed to unlap themselves. This caused mass confusion amongst the drivers, wondering why they weren’t allowed to overtake and confused at what was going on. The second was the fact the safety car came in ALMOST immediately as the final car went pass Lewis, the leading car. As explained earlier, the normal procedure is to let all the lapped cars have one lap to try and catch up to the back of the pack. This is for safety reasons so that the cars aren’t in the way, and because this rule wasn’t followed, Max and Lewis had caught up one of the unlapped cars by the end of the lap. This all happened amongst so much confusion, with all the drivers and teams not knowing what is going on. In the words of Lewis Hamilton, ‘it was manipulated man.’
It’s clear that the FIA just wanted a dramatic and tense lap of the season. They knew what was going to happen. They knew that Max would mince Lewis on much newer and much grippier tyres, and they knew that Lewis would have been a sitting duck on his much older tyres. It hurts me as a Hamilton fan that he lost his 8th title, when he had been controlling that race from lights to almost flag. But what hurts me more as a fan of F1 is the complete lack of respect the FIA had for the sport on that day.
If F1 wanted drama and tension at the end of the race, they should have red flagged it. They red flagged the race in Saudi Arabia for a less serious incident. This would have created a 4-lap sprint race to the chequered flag, with both Lewis and Max on the freshest of tyres. We would have had a standing restart, an inevitable exciting and FAIR battle for the lead, as well as the chance for a midfield driver to battle for that 3rd place. This would have been the best way to the end race, if they wanted a dramatic conclusion.
However, what happened was that F1 engineered and created a dramatic last lap for pure entertainment reasons only. There was no sporting integrity in the actions that the FIA produced. It was completely unfair and practically handed the F1 title to Max Verstappen. As a loyal and long-time fan of the sport, it was absolutely gutting to see the sport that I love so much have such a farcical and embarrassing moment on its biggest stage. In the UK, the race was streamed live on a free-to-air channel, Channel 4, and all over the world casual fans and people not even interested in the sport, were tuning in and engaged with the dramatic conclusion to the F1 season.
What they saw was the ‘world’s greatest motorsport’ completely ignore their own rules just to create entertainment. My mate, who has never seen F1 before and normally calls it boring, decided to tune in as there was so much hype about the race. He messaged me after saying ‘wtf was that? How can they just end a race like that?’ and he was exactly right. How can they end a race like that? The simple answer is, they can’t. Is that the message F1 want to give off to prospective new fans of the sport? That the so called ‘motorsport’ doesn’t actually care for sporting integrity and fairness. That the ‘sport’ only exists for the purpose of entertainment. It must have been exciting for the neutral fan, but you have to admit that no part of it was fair or sporting.
As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t watch the celebrations after the race. I had to go upstairs and sit there for 10 minutes, pondering what had happened. I had to have a shower to calm down. Heck, I even had to play the piano to compose myself. I was absolutely heart-broken that the title was taken away from Lewis in this fashion and devastated that the sport took its own rules into complete disregard. A little bit of my love for the sport died two Sundays ago, as I was so disappointed in the choices that were made.
I will watch the 2022 season and I am obviously looking forward to it. I will continue to watch this sport that I love so much for years to come, but the 2021 season will always have a black mark against it. In what has been an incredible season, the ending left such a bittersweet taste for the majority of F1 and sport fans. And it’s just such a shame that the season had to end in the manner that it did. Oh well, let’s see if Lewis can get his 8th next year or if we can have a new challenger to come take the throne.
Bring on the off season, I think all the men and women of F1 deserve a well-earned break as I can imagine this hectic schedule has been rather stressful for all of them. Let’s finish this piece thanking all of the personnel in the sport; they have put on an incredible show for all of this year and that is something truly special.