Going into the Formula 1 championship showdown in Abu Dhabi, the one thing you could be pretty sure of was that the outcome would be controversial in some respect. No doubt that’s why the Mercedes team had the foresight to include a senior barrister in its team of travelling personnel, but for the first 52 laps, this looked to be an unnecessary measure.
Lewis Hamilton got the better start, and unlike Max Verstappen, he was on the preferred choice of tyres. He was extremely lucky not to be asked to hand the lead to Max on the first lap having left the road when Max had passed him, but it mattered not. Lewis was in a class of his own and would have no doubt re-passed Max quickly and sailed off into the sunset. As it was, despite the best efforts of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Lewis had things completely under control and even with much older tires than Max, he had the pace to win the race comfortably.
Until Nicholas Latifi stuck his Williams in the wall.
This was heartbreakingly bad luck for Lewis, but nothing unusual. It’s completely normal under such circumstances for the safety car to neutralize the race by bunching up the pack and allowing lapped cars to unlap themselves. However, in his quest to ensure that this most exciting of seasons didn’t end under safety-car conditions, race director Michael Masi ruled that some—but not all—of the lapped cars should unlap themselves.
To Mercedes and many fans, this was just plain wrong, and the rules do suggest that the race should not restart until all the lapped cars have unlapped themselves. Perhaps a fairer solution would have been to red-flag the race and simply let Lewis and Max slog it out on equal tires over four laps, but the race director does have the right to use his judgement and rightly or wrongly, racing resumed with Max ending up leading the one lap that really mattered.
Max was given the opportunity to win both the race and the title, and he grabbed it with both hands. Perhaps Masi shouldn’t have given him that opportunity, but while the actions of a competitor might be reviewed after the event, you can’t review the actions of the officials at a later date. Max and Red Bull did everything right. They took risks with their strategy and played to the race director’s decisions and interpretation of the rules.
Perhaps Masi made a questionable call, but in football, if the referee gives a dodgy penalty, you don’t have the resulting goal annulled at a later date. You simply accept the rotten luck and move on, and the same thing should happen in F1.
Mercedes unsuccessfully protested the result after the race, and as of this writing, it remains to be seen whether the team will push through or withdraw their intention to make a further appeal. Drama, tension, and a new world champion are all good for the sport—but arguing about the result in the coming days most definitely isn’t.
At the end of the day, Max got lucky and Lewis was hugely unfortunate. But Max won the race—despite almost losing the rear end on the final corner—and Mercedes need to accept that. Lewis behaved with great dignity after the race. Let’s hope that Toto Wolff does likewise.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.
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