Lewis Hamilton accused the FIA of manipulating the final race of the season shortly before losing his Formula One world title to Max Verstappen, it has emerged.
The Mercedes driver was generous in defeat in Abu Dhabi after his dreams of an eighth world title controversially ended in a final lap showdown. But on that last lap, after Verstappen had passed him, Hamilton said over the radio: “This has been manipulated, man.”
After Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams on lap 53 of 58 the expectation would ordinarily have been for the race to conclude under the safety car. However, Mercedes believe there was an unfair FIA intervention from the race director, Michael Masi, to ensure Verstappen was right behind Hamilton for that final-lap shootout.
Mercedes lodged two protests on Sunday night but both were rejected by race stewards. However, they have given notice of intention to appeal against that decision – and now have until 7pm on Thursday to decide whether to go ahead.
Meanwhile Verstappen, who was nursing a sore head after celebrating through the night which ended to the soundtrack of We Are The Champions by Queen, has admitted the FIA may look to change the rules that led to his dramatic last-lap victory.
“Always after things like this you are going to look into what can we do or what should have been done,” he said. “It’s the same in football. Should it have been a penalty? Shouldn’t it have not? What can we improve? These kinds of things you’ve got to bring up for sure. But I and the team didn’t do anything wrong. We just raced when there was a green light, so that also made it really enjoyable for us to be celebrating.”
Verstappen also revealed he had been sent a message from the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, saying he deserved to win the world title. “Toto sent me a text. ‘Congratulations on the season’ and that I deserved to win it. So that was very nice of him. Of course, emotions ran very high to that last lap from both sides. Both teams gave it all to the end and it was just an amazing battle.”
The 24-year-old, who won his first world championship, also paid tribute to Hamilton, saying he was impressed by his sportsmanship. “Of course it helps that you already have seven titles,” he joked. “I think that comforts him a bit. I think if it’s the other way around, it would be more painful for me. But Lewis is a great sportsman in general. He came up to me and congratulated me. And it must have been very tough in that last lap.
“It also shows the respect we have for each. Of course we had our tough times throughout the season but in the end, you know we respect what we were doing and we’re pushing each other to the limit the whole season. So it has been really enjoyable racing against them.”
Meanwhile the FIA’s handling of the controversial ending to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been heavily criticised as the sport “marking its own homework” by a leading international arbitration lawyer. Duncan Bagshaw, a barrister at Howard Kennedy specialising in international arbitration and litigation, was dismissive of the process and said Mercedes would be in a strong position to mount legal action.
Bagshaw said: “The FIA, marking its own homework, perhaps unsurprisingly said that they stood by the decision of the race director.”
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, had asked Masi to allow the lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to unlap themselves, leaving the title protagonists closed-up for the crucial final lap. It was initially stated they would not be allowed to do so but it was then announced that those five cars specifically could unlap themselves.
When racing resumed Hamilton was a sitting duck on much older tyres and Verstappen swiftly passed him to take the win and the title. Mercedes protested against the handling of the safety car procedures but their protests were rejected.
Bagshaw said: “Everybody wanted to see that race finish in racing conditions but the rule makes it very clear that any cars that have been lapped by the leader have to be allowed to pass the leading cars and the safety car before the race is restarted and he did not allow that to happen. It’s very important for Mercedes to give the message that racing is the most important thing to this sport.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
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