The Guardian: By Giles Richards At Yas Marina – Max Verstappen celebrated winning his first Formula One world championship with victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but only after huge controversy, that still leaves his title in some doubt.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are angry at a win they felt had been unfairly snatched away and which remains under debate with Mercedes intending to appeal against the stewards’ decision and the option of taking their case to the court of arbitration for sport. The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, has made clear his intention to oppose any attempt to strip his driver of the title.
A tense battle at the Yas Marina circuit was decided on the final lap in this final race of the season when Verstappen overtook Hamilton for the win to seal the championship after a fiercely-contested 22 meetings.
Yet in doing so his Red Bull team and Mercedes were left at loggerheads over how the win had been achieved, with Mercedes taking a barrister to their meetings with the stewards. Their protests were rejected but while they were taking place a discontented Hamilton opted to take no part in the post-race press conference. He had gone into the race equal on points with Verstappen attempting to win his eighth title and was hugely disappointed but had congratulated his rival on the victory.
The flashpoint came after Verstappen pitted during a late safety car period for fresh tyres with which to attack Hamilton and then what Mercedes saw as an unfair FIA intervention to ensure he was on Hamilton’s tail for that final lap shootout. Horner had requested the FIA race director, Michael Masi, act to allow the lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to unlap themselves leaving the title protagonists closed up for the crucial final lap. Having initially stated they would not be allowed to do so, it was then announced that those five cars specifically could unlap themselves.
Horner was convinced it had been the right decision but admitted that without an intervention Hamilton would have been uncatchable.
“We needed something from the racing gods in the last 10 laps,” he said referring to the safety car prompted by Nicholas Latifi’s accident. He then issued a bullish response after the post-race wrangling had taken place.
“It’s obviously a little bit desperate,” he said of the Mercedes protests.
“If they appeal it we will fight it in the appeal court and then the legal court after that. Maybe I need a barrister on the pit wall with me. We didn’t want it to finish in front of the stewards.”
Hamilton’s only comments were those made in the moments immediately after climbing from his car and before the protests were made.
“Big congratulations to Max and his team,” he said. “We did an amazing job this year. It’s been the most difficult of seasons and I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be part of the journey with them.
“We gave it everything, we gave it absolutely everything, we never gave up, and that’s the most important thing.” Verstappen acknowledged that without the final safety car he would have been unable to catch Hamilton but was unequivocal in his belief the stewards had made the right decision to allow the final lap of racing.
“Everything was clear, so why would you run another lap behind a safety car?” he said. “When everything is clear you have to release the track. I think that’s a fair point from the race direction.”
In a season that has become marked by increasingly acrimonious and ill-tempered exchanges between the two teams this was a nadir with the finale decided over bitter disagreement.
Verstappen believed Mercedes’ protests and the controversy was indicative of how fractious the relationship had become. “It sums up, a little bit, the season,” he said of their attempts to overturn the result.
McLaren’s Lando Norris believed the decision had been made deliberately to provide a climactic finale after he had not expected to be given permission to unlap himself.
“It was obviously made to be a fight,” he said.
“It was for the TV, of course. It was for the result. Whether or not it was fair, it’s hard for me to decide.”
- Top Feature Photo: Lewis Hamilton opted not to take part in the post-race press conference – Bryn Lennon/Getty Images