Russell: Hamilton had title ‘taken away from him’

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes race suit. Abu Dhabi, December 2021.

Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes race suit and balaclava on the grid. Abu Dhabi, December 2021.

George Russell firmly believes his new Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton was robbed of the 2021 World Championship.

The controversial conclusion of Hamilton’s epic battle with Max Verstappen for the 2021 title dominated the off-season talk, with Hamilton entering an extended period of social media silence.

The controversy centred around a late Safety Car period at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with now former race director Michael Masi clearing the lapped cars between Verstappen in P2 and leader Hamilton before restarting the race for the final lap.

Hamilton had controlled the race, but with Verstappen having ‘pitted’ under Safety Car conditions for fresh tyres he was able to pass Hamilton on that last lap and clinch the first Drivers’ Championship of his career.

Hamilton has since made it clear he will not dwell on the past, instead now focused on the future at Mercedes alongside his new team-mate Russell.

But just before moving on from the saga, Russell stated the record eighth title had been Hamilton’s before it was taken away in Abu Dhabi.

Lewis Hamilton poses with his 44 number. February 2022
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton poses with his 44 number. February 2022

“He had that race completely under control,” said Russell at the launch of Mercedes’ 2022 challenger, the W13.

“He only had to bring it home and he would have been an eight-time champion and he had that taken away from him.”

Russell did, though, acknowledge it was a “mistake” that cost Hamilton the title, but hopes the restructuring of Race Control which has happened since will avoid any repeats.

Masi has departed the race director role, which now will be shared between two individuals, with support from Charlie Whiting’s former deputy Herbie Blash and a football VAR-style remote virtual Race Control room.

“Mistakes happen when the heat of the moment is on and people’s emotions are high,” said Russell.

“In sport, there is always a huge amount of pressure on every individual, whether it be the athlete, the coach, the manager, the engineers, the referee or the race director.

“We’ve all come to the agreement that what happened in Abu Dhabi was incorrect and the changes have been made because of the outcome of Abu Dhabi.

 

“The FIA were incredibly proactive straight after Abu Dhabi to find better solutions.

“I think the VAR solution is great and it makes total sense to have further assistance, people analysing live and more input to get a quicker view and decision to be made.

“Times progress, things move on, the way drivers are exploiting the rule book is understandable and the FIA need to do more to compensate that because every team and driver will always look for ways to get the upper hand.

“It will take some time to refine but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It will always need more, and the more things we can do virtually can only be beneficial.”

 

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