Popov: Hamilton ‘wasn’t ripped off’ in season finale

Henry Valantine
Lewis Hamilton holds his trophy aloft. Abu Dhabi December 2021.

Lewis Hamilton holds the second place trophy aloft on the podium. Abu Dhabi December 2021.

Russian TV commentator Alexey Popov does not think Lewis Hamilton was “ripped off” in Abu Dhabi as events balance out over the course of the season.

Hamilton held a comfortable lead prior to the deployment of the Safety Car late in the race, which meant he was on course to take a record eighth World title.

But after Max Verstappen had pitted for fresh tyres and the controversial decision to restart the race for the final lap, the Red Bull driver overtook Hamilton to become World Champion for the first time.

Popov said Hamilton held the upper hand in the single event in Abu Dhabi, but he explained that the controversial moments of the season all level out over the course of 22 races – adding that comparisons to other sports don’t apply in the world of Formula 1.

While the Russian commentator acknowledged Abu Dhabi was an “extreme case”, he added that the dramatic conclusion was just “part of racing”.

Lewis Hamilton behind the Safety Car. Abu Dhabi December 2021
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton behind the Safety Car at the Yas Marina circuit. Abu Dhabi December 2021

“I think everything is fair in the season. Specifically in this race – yes, Lewis was stronger, but that’s sport,” Popov told Championat.

“I’ve seen a lot of fans upset that it wasn’t their favourite who won. They tie in analogies from other sports: ‘But imagine if a team leads 10-0 in football and then they give one penalty that costs like 11 goals’.

“No, guys. That’s not how it works in motor racing. There’s a chequered flag in motor racing.

“And that’s the luck of the current generation. And I, being a grandfather, [can remember] the early ’90s when cars broke down for real. Not like now – once a season. But when they broke down often – and that was normal.

“And even take this season. Leclerc was in the lead at Silverstone – Lewis passes him at the end. Norris at Sochi, pop, and Lewis passes him.

“That is, such situations happen without any breakdowns: tactics, tyres, some rain… Yes, it was an extreme case, but you can’t say: he had a 12-second lead, but the pace car took it all away.

“That’s part of racing. Fair or unfair, Masi or no Masi, it’s all part of the race.

“The odds can stay or they can be nullified.”

Popov went on to explain how the media in Britain have backed Hamilton over the perceived injustice over the end of the season, with the Mercedes driver having said over team radio at the time that the result of the race had been “manipulated”.

 

Popov said the general feeling is that the seven-time World Champion had been “ripped off” as a result of the controversial final lap, and while he thinks Hamilton would have deserved his eighth title, that should not detract from Verstappen’s achievement.

“I’ve seen the story in the English press, ‘Our boy has been ripped off’,” said Popov. “I don’t think he’s been ripped off. He was very deserving this year, and had he won, he would have been a fine, deserved World Champion.

“But Max won – and Max is no less deserving World Champion.”