Max Verstappen edged the GOAT and seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton for his first championship on Sunday, Dec. 13, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Verstappen and Hamilton went back and forth all season and there was controversy just about every week, and the final race in Abu Dhabi was no different.
On the closing laps driver Nicholas Latifi slid off the track and hit a wall, leading to a safety car. FIA rules indicate that any lapped cars that line up behind a safety car are allowed to overtake and un-lap themselves while the safety car is out on the track. That didn’t happen on Sunday.
Of the eight drivers who were lapped in the race, only five were allowed to pass Lewis Hamilton under the safety car. Those five cars were precisely the ones between Hamilton and Verstappen, who had been in second place before the crash. There were three more cars that had yet to unlap themselves but should have been given the opportunity to do so, per the FIA’s rules.
The unlapping procedure meant that on the final lap Verstappen, who during the safety car period had taken on fresh tires, did not have to get past the five lapped drivers before trying to overtake race leader Hamilton. When the race was restarted with one lap to go Verstappen duly made a pass in a turn to overtake Hamilton, who was running on older tires with less grip, to win the season championship on the final lap of the final race of the season.
Latifi apologized after the race for influencing the championship.
“It was never my intention and I can only apologise for influencing and creating an opportunity,” Latifi said. “I made a mistake. We were just really struggling for grip through the next sequence of corners, and especially where I ended up going off. I wasn’t aware of the situation of the race up until then. Obviously it was never my intention to inadvertently influence that, but I made a mistake and ruined my own race.”
All of this drama and controversy is perfect for F1, which has been gaining in popularity in recent years, particularly in the U.S.
F1 blowing up my feed this morning. Amazing how relevant this sport has become IN AMERICA over the last two years.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 12, 2021
There’s already one race in the US, and a second will be added for the 2022 season. Plus there is talk of a third. Hamilton spoke about F1 racing in the states earlier this season.
“Of course in these last couple of years it has been the steepest rise and more and more people are talking about it, and more and more people are engaging. The amount of emails and messages I get from people who I have known for years in the States but never knew what I was doing and are now hooked and cannot wait to come.”
Sports at its core is a television show. What makes a television show successful? Compelling characters, drama, and conflict. F1 has this right now with Hamilton and Verstappen.
During Sunday’s race Verstappen’s Red Bull team boss Christian Horner pressured race director Michael Masi to let the five cars unlap themselves while the rest of the field was told to remain in position. Then, Hamilton’s Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff yelled at Masi over the team-to-FIA radio.
On the last lap, Hamilton complained on his car radio. “This has been manipulated, man.”
Mercedes even launched a formal protest following Sunday’s race, but the race results were ultimately upheld.
Both men were respectful following the long championship season and congratulated the other and showed mutual respect. The 2022 season kicks off in March.
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