Opinion—2021 F1 Finale, Abu Dhabi GP

“motor racing” you say 🤨?

So—I’m a mediocre formula one fan, but it was without a doubt an amazing season. The top two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen went into the last race tied in points. I had a chance to watch the final race of the season and was super disappointed with the outcome. Not because one driver or another won (I’m a Ricciardo fan), but because how inconsistent officiating interfered with performances on the track, and ultimately, impacted the outcome of the race. 

99% of the race was honestly pretty dull. There was a little excitement at the start, but the only real excitement after that was when Checo Perez (the other Red Bull team car) was able to strategically battle with Hamilton for a few laps, allowing Verstappen to catch them. That said, after Hamilton passed Checo he was able to pull away from Verstappen again. This event ultimately did not have an significant impact on the race outcome.

The part of the race that truly bothered me was after the caution came out for Latifi’s crash. By this time, Hamilton was around 11-12 seconds ahead of Verstappen. During this process, Hamilton lapped a handful of cars—putting them between himself and Verstappen—meaning Verstappen was unable to lap these cars before the caution came out. From my understanding, the race steward, Michael Masi initially announced they were not going to allow the lapped cars to regain their position on the lead lap, meaning lapped cars would stay between Hamilton and Verstappen for the final restart. However, at the last second, the race steward decided to let the only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen back onto the lead lap, meaning they were able to pass Hamilton to finish on the lead lap of the race. The rest of the drivers (my guy included) were not allowed to get back on the lead lap. This put Verstappen directly behind Hamilton, creating a one lap shoot out to finish the race. While this makes for great television, the decision- making behind this kind of move by the race steward was incredibly problematic. 

Why it was objectively unethical:
Okay, so here’s why what the race steward did was super effed-up. It goes without saying late cautions always make things more spicy when it comes to racing. Both teams in the championship hunt were making in the moment strategic decisions based off the feedback they were getting from race control. When the caution came out and the steward indicated that lapped cars would be kept between Hamilton and Verstappen that was a major inflection point for both teams. For Mercedes (Hamilton’s team) the belief was that Hamilton could hold off Verstappen for a lap on old tires given they would have a handful of lapped cars separating them. Why risk a problem in the pits when it wouldn’t be necessary? Why risk letting Verstappen get ahead—because if Mercedes would have stopped for tires Red Bull would have obviously stayed out, putting Verstappen ahead of Hamilton. For Red Bull (Verstappen’s team) they had absolutely nothing to lose and more or less got a free pit stop for fresh tires since the course was under caution and they knew Verstappen needed a miracle (and more or less voiced that on the radio) to get around all the lapped cars in time. Of course, both teams were screaming at the steward on the radio in real time—why this is allowed I have no idea. Red Bull had nothing to lose by lobbying the race director to flip flop on his decision knowing Mercedes was out there on worn out tires—politics 101—but again, both teams reacted based off the initial feedback from the director about how the restart would be handled… And who knows how Mercedes was arguing the opposite to influence the initial call by race control? That ultimately doesn’t matter. What I’m objectively critiquing here is the initial call that went out about how lapped cars would be handled for all of the teams. This is the only actionable decision making information the race teams had at this time. Whether Masi made the right call on the lappers initially is irrelevant—that has more to do with his understanding of the rules and is a separate conversation that needs to happen. Masi made a call as a race manager and teams reacted accordingly. Then he changed the call at the last second. That’s wrong.

So, when at the last second the race steward unexpectedly let only selected lap cars through (a-hem…again, not legal based on my understanding) the strategy for one team was totally undermined. This effectively put the two fastest cars head to head in literally the last seconds before the green flag, but one was on fresh soft tires and the other was on worn out hard tires. I’m sorry, but that shit just ain’t right. I humbly ask you here to remove fandom from the equation and look at the situation objectively.

Of course, the Mercedes team has protested and blah blah blah and the rest will be history—and nothing can change the outcome and what we saw go down in real time. I guess one thing that really bothers me about this is how blatantly unethical it was. A race steward cannot flip-flop on a critical decision in real time because teams have already made race-determining decisions based off the original feedback given. You can’t walk that back without screwing someone in a strategic game. Something that really stuck in my craw as a former small-time dirt track racer was when the steward said “that’s motor car racing” to the Mercedes principal after the race. It’s hard for me to believe this race steward has ever been a race driver—I could be wrong, though—couldn’t find that info online. We say “that’s a racing incident” or “that’s racing” in the U.S.—And that exclusively refers to shit that happens on track between drivers. I’ve been involved in many “racing incidents”—most of them end with broken equipment and pissed off people. We saw “racing incidents” between these two drivers on track all year that race control did weigh on on—after the fact. This obviously also impacted the outcome of this championship, but in those instances we all saw what went down on track before race control did anything to impact points outcomes. Race control also had the benefit of replay to reflect on their decision to insure it was correct. What happened at the end of this race was pre-meditated meddling. That is not “motor car racing”— that is unethical race management by the steward (I’m not going to go as far as using the the C word here, but yeah pretty much). This is the worst possible scenario for drivers because it’s demoralizing and ultimately undermines their ability to truly own their victories, which is what they get paid the big bucks to do.

Again, this is just stupid racing and there’s so much else going on in the world that’s more important, but I had to exercise this in writing this because it kept popping into my head over and over again and I want it out. I think it’s probably because it’s a metaphor for so many other injustices in our world when unqualified or unethical people are put into positions of power—or are influenced politically by other power entities. Ethics and fairness seem to go out the window. If you’re going to ask the drivers put their lives on the line to put on a show, respect the race (even if the outcome isn’t as sexy as it could be for the fans or tv ratings), be steady with decisions, and stay the eff out of the way. I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff about this driver or that driver getting robbed (most of them live in Monaco and earn lots of money—I think they’ll be ok), but even though this outcome was stimulating it was the fans that ultimately got robbed. F1 isn’t the WWE. Stuff like this does nothing but undermine the integrity of the sport and insult the drivers in my humble opinion.

Since F1 dropped the ball on this, I’d say let’s put Hamilton and Verstappen in a 5 lap head to head shootout at the Chili Bowl Nationals to decide it once and for all, but that’s just me. 


🏎 + 📒 + 📖 + 🧾