Damon Hill: No cheats on track in Abu Dhabi, but the fans were cheated

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton leads Max Verstappen into the last lap of the Abu Dhabi GP. Yas Marina December 2021.

Green flag is waved as Lewis Hamilton leads Max Verstappen into the last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina December 2021.

Neither Max Verstappen nor Lewis Hamilton did anything wrong at the 2021 Abu Dhabi finale, but Damon Hill says fans were “cheated out” of a “clear, unambiguous” result.

12 months on from the day, Formula 1 fans and pundits are still analysing the 2021 season finale, the controversial call by Michael Masi and whether or not Lewis Hamilton was robbed.

But at the end of the day the history books clearly say Max Verstappen was the race winner, and the Red Bull driver was the 2021 World Champion.

The circumstances, some would argue, don’t matter – after all it wasn’t Verstappen’s fault as the Dutchman did nothing wrong.

Hill agrees with that sentiment although he does believe Formula 1 was “cheated” by then race director Michael Masi setting in play a one-lap shoot-out for the title.

“I think it was very damaging,” he told Sky Sports of the controversial manner in which Abu Dhabi played out.

“I don’t think there were any cheats out there, but I think we could be excused for saying we were cheated out of a clear, unambiguous finish in a last race to decide a World Championship

“That’s how everyone felt, everyone was scratching their head at the end of that racing asking what just happened.

“Ultimately nothing’s going to change the result. But you can understand people’s feeling of anger, and maybe Lewis’s sense that he was deprived of any title that should have gone to him under the Safety Car.”

Fellow former driver turned pundit Martin Brundle agrees with the 1996 World Champion that had Masi not interfered, the title would have gone to Hamilton.

The Briton was comfortably leading ahead of Verstappen when a late Safety Car came into play and Masi allowed only the drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves. Had all eight been permitted to, F1 would have run out of laps and the race would have finished behind the Safety Car.

“If their regulations had played out in full the race would have finished under the Safety Car and Lewis would have been the champion for the eighth time,” Brundle stated.

“Some mitigating circumstances, not excuses. We had 39 races in the 17 months, the system was under pressure. There were chances for Mercedes to put fresh tyres on the car in the race and Max still had to get the overtake done at the end of the race. But the championship is won over all of the 2021 races. So apply all of those.

“There have been some conversations behind the scene, a real urgency to try not to finish behind the Safety Car or a red flag. It was the biggest event. One of the biggest events in Formula One history.

“But the bottom line is it should have finished up with the Safety Car.”

Joining his fellow Britons on the Sky F1 broadcast, Jenson Button says throughout it all what impressed him the most was how Hamilton dealt with the defeat.

“The things that’s great to see was Lewis, his words and how it comes across,” said Button. “Really difficult time because it’s been an intense season, every single Formula 1 season is intense.

“Up until that last moment, the last three minutes of that race, he thought he was going be the 2021 World Champion, so mentally that is really tough as a driver.

“But looking at how strong he seems now as an individual, and how he’s grown as a person since that difficult day, he’s a better driver for and a better person for I’m sure moving forward.”

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