Perhaps he didn’t think it through.
Really, what other excuse remained to justify the absolute sh*tshow that took place at the Abu Dhabi GP? When the F1 hivemind is unanimous in saying that frequently-hated Lewis Hamilton was robbed, you know you have f**ked up.
#HistoryAwaits was the promotional hashtag F1 used to milk the battle between Hamilton and Max Verstappen. A title battle so titanic that it went to the last race of the season with nothing to separate the two rivals. Except by the end of it, the FIA was the iceberg, Verstappen was the Oscar nomination and Hamilton was, well, the Titanic.
Can’t make this up
That’s what everyone said before the FIA struck. The worst-case scenario imaginable was the two drivers colliding into each other and having a boxing match for the title at Yas Marina. By the time the race was over, the only thing clear was the fact that our imaginations needed improvement, because not even Doctor Strange saw this one coming.
At a race he led from the start to the final lap, all Hamilton had to do was finish ahead of Verstappen. He had one hand on his eighth world championship as Verstappen ran way behind him, his Red Bull not as quick as Hamilton’s Mercedes throughout the race.
That is of course until Michael Masi decided to cater to drama, ratings or in his words, “motor racing”. But wait, surely he didn’t think it through, right?
For someone who is the equivalent of a referee in football, Masi bent a rule on the final lap of the final race of the season to have a grandstand finish. While his justification to an incensed Toto Wolff was the need for having racing instead of a Safety Car finish, it was an absolutely bizarre call that handed the championship to Verstappen on a silver platter with a can of complementary Red Bull.
It’s one thing to allow lapped cars to unlap themselves. What is not acceptable, however, is allowing a certain number of cars to unlap themselves. It was no coincidence that they were the cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen.
The fact of the matter is that Hamilton was a sitting duck the second Masi went back on his initial decision to keep the lapped cars behind the Safety Car. Suddenly, the gears in his head turned, the order was given, and Verstappen found himself right behind Hamilton on fresher tyres having spent the entire race chasing shadows.
The point people are missing is that while Hamilton was absolutely mugged off, Masi and the FIA somehow managed to rob Verstappen too. Yes, even though he won his first championship and put smiles on the faces of the Orange Army, the long-term implications of it are not pretty.
Before it is said, it has to be agreed upon that Verstappen is a deserving champion. Your writer will wholeheartedly support the claim that he was the most consistent driver on the grid, and was operating on a different level along with Hamilton. He was absolutely sensational throughout the season, with some memorable victories and racing incidents.
However, because of what happened in the sands of Abu Dhabi, Verstappen’s championship win has a huge asterisk next to it. Somehow, the shine of being a champion is not entirely there on the Dutchman’s resume despite his season being more than worthy of one.
That is a huge shame and something to lament. The controversy during the race was not on him. All he did was take advantage of a colossal disasterclass from Masi and his stewards. However, people will inevitably put him in the bracket of an undeserving champion, something that is not exactly correct.
A driver as talented as Verstappen does not deserve that. He deserves to be remembered as a champion on the track who won it by just racing hard and fast. Unfortunately, his title win was decided in the stewards’ room as much as it was at Yas Marina.
It has now come to the point where we want Verstappen to win another title solely because this one didn’t feel right. Looking at his season as a whole, he deserves to be the champion. But upon looking at Abu Dhabi as THE championship decider, it should have probably been “Get in there Lewis!”
From orange celebrations to a dejected British Knight slumping in his car, it was peaks and valleys of emotions at Abu Dhabi. However, the hydra that is the set of consequences that came with Masi’s abysmal judgment call reared its ugly heads, and that was Mercedes protesting what happened left, right and centre.
While the eight-time Constructors’ Champions have every right to challenge what happened, it is still a bad look for the sport. This was the season F1 managed to attract the most pairs of eyeballs onto what was happening on track, only for this exhilarating season to have THIS ending.
The FIA rejected Mercedes’ protests, which means they will surely appeal it at a higher court. Either they will be told the case has no scope, or they might actually win the legal battle against the decision-makers. If that happens, we may see a championship being awarded to or stripped from a driver.
Think about that again. A championship that is earned through a year’s worth of blood, sweat and tears could be handed or taken away within the four walls of a courtroom. We could see Hamilton break the great Michael Schumacher’s record upon a judge’s tap of the gavel. We could see Verstappen lose his maiden championship after a lawyer’s concluding statement. It is an embarrassing situation for F1, and a stark realisation that it is slowly moving away from race to reel.
The spectacle is being prioritised more than any other aspect, and that means the only winners are the sport’s bank accounts and maybe Netflix. It was a dark day in the history of F1, and on this occasion, the heel was Masi. He was the chief orchestrator of everything that happened during and after the race, and faces the danger of losing his job.
Unfortunately, he is only part of the problem, but this race has shown us that the sport is not all asphalt, craft and pace as it is shown to be. It’s gravitating towards drama, theatre and crowd-pleasing, and that’s the only thing Jacques Villeneuve has gotten right in recent times.
The last thing required was Masi’s politics being the coin flip for Hamilton and Verstappen. And after everything that has happened, perhaps he really didn’t think it through. Or maybe, he might just have.