Racing, rivalry, drama — F1 delivers

After a long period of Mercedes dominance, we needed a proper inter-team battle and Red Bull delivered that challenge superbly. The action on track was really high-quality stuff, punctuated by controversial moments and drama while the war of words between the team bosses off the track kept the headlines coming all season long.

Faceoff: Neither Max Verstappen nor Lewis Hamilton deserved to lose that World Championship. They have both been driving on such a consistently high level despite the pressure of the title battle.   -  Getty Images

That was the craziest final 10 minutes to a Formula 1 World Championship season that I can remember! For decades to come, anyone who was in Abu Dhabi will be telling our grandchildren that we were there to witness an extraordinary weekend of intense battle between two supremely talented drivers. This was also one of the greatest seasons in F1 history.

Let’s start with the finish because that’s what everyone wants to hear about. In my view, the whole thing seemed a bit confusing with the message first that “lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake the safety car” followed by the message to just the five cars between Lewis (Hamilton) and Max (Verstappen) being told to pass. That effectively handed the championship to Max as he had the fresh soft tyres, while Lewis was on a well-worn set of H=hard ones and therefore had little chance to fight back.

READ: Formula One finale to be reviewed by FIA for future lessons

I think a more fair and still very exciting finish would have been to either (a) red flag the race when Nicholas Latifi crashed and then have a four-lap sprint to the flag with everyone on fresh tyres, or (b) leave the lapped cars in between Lewis and Max so there would have been more of a contest on the final lap because I think Max would have passed the lapped cars in the first half of the lap and then attack Lewis in the second half of that last lap.

To call a red flag, because of all the procedures involved would have needed Michael Masi to almost pre-decide that “if a car crashes at T14, we’ll call a red flag” and clearly that wasn’t the case. In a normal race weekend, a safety car call would have been totally expected and also, I think the race would have just carried on under the safety car until the finish with Lewis in front. But this wasn’t a normal race, and it does feel like there was a real desire (understandably) to finish this great season under green flag racing conditions.

Mercedes clearly did not let it go easily. They announced their intention to appeal after two post-race protests were dismissed, but ultimately withdrew after FIA promised to analyse the race and bring clarity for the future. I 100% sympathise with Lewis and Mercedes because, until lap 52, they had the title in their pocket fair. But I just don’t see how the result could have been overturned even if they had gone ahead with the appeal because ultimately, the race ran to its full distance and the result was declared. Were they going to take (Carlos) Sainz’s podium away or take away (Yuki) Tsunoda’s fourth place on a countback?

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The whole weekend was super intense. I was particularly nervous as I had been a part of the design team who had done the re-configuration of the Yas Marina circuit and now suddenly, it was going to have millions of eyes on it for the most high-profile race in F1 history. Lewis started off the weekend saying that he thought the track would suit Mercedes and Christian Horner jumped on that bandwagon all through free practice taking little digs about how I was helping Mercedes.

It was obviously a joke because the track design work started a year ago and was signed off in the Spring this year, a long time before anyone knew what sort of track would suit each car. Christian and I knew he was saying it in jest but the Max superfans and the clickbait media went mad on Friday as if I was some form of Mercedes employee! Mind you, when Max took pole on Saturday, I didn’t hear any thanks from Christian about the final sector of the track suited their car superbly.

Savouring success: F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing poses for a photo with his team at Red Bull Racing Factory in Milton Keynes, England.   -  Getty Images

 

Max’s Qualifying lap was sublime. If ever you want an example of a young sportsman capable of soaking up pressure on the biggest weekend of his career, that was it. He was inch-perfect, and Lewis had no answer to that. Come to the start of the race, the Mercedes launched into the lead, and the battle down to turn 6 was pretty tasty. I personally think that Lewis left a gap which Max was able to go for and crucially he stopped the car in time to make the corner. If Max could slow down enough, then Lewis could have also done so and therefore I think he should have given the place back to Max.

Either way, as we saw in the previous three races, once again the Mercedes was clearly the faster car in terms of race pace. Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi all have very different circuits but on all four tracks, the Mercedes had superior speed on the Sundays. I think even if Lewis had given the place back to Max, he would have passed him quite quickly after that. In the end, the gap just grew steadily and despite Sergio Perez’s best efforts, it never really looked like Max was going to challenge Lewis until that final lap.

Neither driver deserved to lose that World Championship. They have both been driving on such a consistently high level despite the pressure of the title battle. Max scored a record 18 podiums this year and the only races he didn’t finish first or second were when he had incidents (Silverstone, Hungary, Monza) or a tyre failure (Baku). Lewis and Mercedes started the season on the back foot, with a car that looked very tricky to drive but they worked together as a team, dug themselves out of a hole, and came to the final part of the season with the faster package. Lewis’ victories in Bahrain and Brazil this year were amongst his best of all time.

Overall, this was a year where F1 won. After a long period of Mercedes dominance, we needed a proper inter-team battle and Red Bull delivered that challenge superbly. The action on track was really high-quality stuff, punctuated by controversial moments and drama while the war of words between the team bosses off the track kept the headlines coming all season long. Bring on 2022!

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