F1 ‘heading into dangerous territory’ towards WWE

Finley Crebolder
Safety Car and backmarkers. Abu Dhabi December 2021

F1 Safety Car, Aston Martin Vantage, # 44 Lewis Hamilton (GBR, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team), # 4 Lando Norris (GBR, McLaren F1 Team), F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit. Abu Dhabi December 2021

Formula 1 is getting dangerously close to becoming motorsport’s version of WWE, says former driver Stefan Johansson.

The 2021 campaign featured one of the most spectacular climaxes ever with Max Verstappen overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the final race to win the title ahead of the Mercedes driver.

While it was thrilling though, it was also hugely controversial due to the fact that Michael Masi ignore normal protocol to set up the grandstand finish, allowing the five lapped cars between the two title rivals to unlap themselves under the Safety Car – but no others so that there would be enough time for a final lap in racing conditions.

The race director’s decision to do so has divided opinion with some praising him for creating such a thrilling spectacle and others feeling he broke the rules for the sake of entertainment.

Johansson is very much part of the latter camp and is worried it’s becoming like WWE, the scripted wrestling competition.

“In the end, I think both Max and Lewis deserved to win the title this year,” he said on his blog.

“They both drove at such a high level and both their teams operated at equally high levels, and it would have been such an incredible ending to the year to have it decided fair and square on the racetrack.

“Instead, we now have this endless controversy and polarization. I’m sure the folks at Liberty are not complaining as this has lifted F1 to a whole new level in terms of people following.

“But, if this is the direction it will continue, where the entertainment comes before the sport, I think we’re getting into a very dangerous territory, I would hate to see F1 turning into the Motorsports version of the WWF [now known as WWE], where it’s just a show and the sport is secondary to the entertainment.

“The Netflix show has obviously helped lift the profile of F1 immensely, especially in the US. I know how many of the teams and drivers feel about it, but you still can’t deny the impact it’s had. Personally, I had to tune out after 15 minutes.

“I think it’s important to find a good balance going forward, I appreciate social media and marketing from every possible angle is important, but I would hate to see the drivers turning into some sort of comedians and clowns rather than brave young men doing their thing on Sunday afternoons.”

Michael Masi talking on phone at the Brazilian GP. Interlagos November 2021.
FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi talking on phone at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Interlagos November 2021.

How the season ended in Abu Dhabi isn’t the only reason the former F1 driver is worried about the future of the sport, with him also having concerns about the governing at the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia.

Verstappen was leading a race that was red-flagged but had taken said lead by passing Hamilton off track and gaining an unfair advantage.

Before the race was restarted, Masi contacted Red Bull to say they could choose to have their driver restart the race in P3 rather than P1 to avoid the stewards looking at the incident.


“The other thing I’m totally perplexed about is what happened in the Saudi race, where race control is suddenly starting a negotiation with the teams during a safety car period, where did that come from?!” Johansson added.

“I’ve never in all my years of racing in just about every category worth mentioning ever seen that happen before. I didn’t know that was even possible, or legal for that matter.

“The only logical answer to me is that there may be pressure from above to spice up the show, which may also explain the equally illogical decision to finish the race the way they did in Abu Dhabi.”


'F1 heading into dangerous territory'

Stefan Johansson thinks Abu Dhabi led F1 heading towards entertainment rather than sport.