Almost 17 months after that 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale, Lewis Hamilton says “the scar is there and there will always be that memory”.
That day Hamilton lost the Drivers’ Championship title to Max Verstappen in controversial circumstances, when then FIA race director Michael Masi made the unprecedented call to allow only the cars between race leader Hamilton and second placed Verstappen to unlap themselves.
That meant there was time for one lap of racing, one lap in which Hamilton went from race leader to second place with Verstappen swooping past at Turn 4 to take the win and the World title.
Shouting “this has been manipulated, man” over the radio, Hamilton could only watch as his dream of a record-breaking eighth World title went by along with the Red Bull.
It’s the sort of hurt that lingers such as losing a “first love” he says.
“Ultimately that feeling never really truly leaves you,” he told ESPN. “It’s like when you think about your first love, it will always be that first love and first heartbreak.
“Abu Dhabi, the scar is there and there will always be that memory. Even though I reprogrammed my mind, I think it still took me the whole year to really push through it because we were straight back into work.
“It wasn’t a quick thing.”
His team boss Toto Wolff was also affected by the loss and puts the blame squarely on Masi’s shoulders.
Despairing at the time with a “no Mikey, no”, Wolff does not believe there was a conspiracy to prevent Hamilton from bagging that eight. Rather he says it was all down to “one man”.
“For us it was a catastrophic set of circumstances, but it was the making of one man – there is no big conspiracy theory behind it,” said the Austrian.
“Would I have wished that Jean Todt got involved rather than being filming for his documentary? Yes. At least to tell the stewards to look at it the right way.
“But would it have made a difference? I don’t know. It was the making of one man, this was a championship between two drivers and two teams, both had merited to win and on the day the outcome was different because one guy just lost the plot.
“But I am at peace with it now.”
Looking back at Abu Dhabi today, Hamilton says he found the positive in that he turned it into a “strengthening” experience.
“It strengthened all of us at the team, but from my own personal experience it was a hugely strengthening experience,” he said.
“You can’t always win, and to go through that, and learn how to be a better team-mate, how to really lift people up, pull people together in a different way was a valuable lesson for me that I’m really grateful for.
“So that’s why I come into this season and I know it’s prepared us better for whatever we face moving forward.”