Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2021

Abu Dhabi’s legacy one year on: How the controversial 2021 finale changed F1

2022 F1 season

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Formula 1 has never seen a grand prix as shocking, controversial and consequential as the one that took place one year ago today at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.

In the space of 12 minutes, a seemingly nailed-on eighth world championship for Lewis Hamilton evaporated following a late Safety Car appearance and a last-lap restart which contravened the rules. When it was over, Max Verstappen had grabbed the crown in a stunning upset, leaving Hamilton and his Mercedes team devastated.

Mercedes immediately protested the results of the race on multiple grounds. Their key case argued that the FIA’s F1 race director, Michael Masi, had failed to follow the Safety Car procedure correctly on two counts – by failing to allow all lapped cars to unlap themselves behind the Safety Car and restarting the race a lap too soon. The protests were dismissed by the race stewards and, four days later, Mercedes confirmed they would not exercise their right to appeal.

That removed any threat to Verstappen’s title. But months later, following a detailed scrutiny of what unfolded, the FIA concurred Masi had indeed made an error and he left the governing body.

In the 12 months since that moment, a lot has changed in Formula 1. Here are the many things about F1 that are different as a direct result of those seismic final six laps.

New FIA leadership promises transparency

Jean Todt, Mohamed Bin Sulayem
Todt was replaced by Ben Sulayem as FIA president
The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was not just the final race of the 2021 championship and the last grand prix of the sport’s previous generation of cars, it was also the final grand prix held under the FIA presidency of Jean Todt.

After 12 years and three terms as president, Todt reached the end of his tenure leading Formula 1’s governing body. Five days after the chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Ben Sulayem was announced as the election winner, defeating Todt’s right-hand man, Graham Stoker.

Among Todt’s final acts in charge was to order a full review into the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which Ben Sulayem and his new team had to see through to completion. The FIA’s secretary general of Sport, Peter Bayer, headed the inquiry.

Its findings were published in March. It found Masi had failed to correctly follow the Safety Car procedure due to “human error”, but determined he acted in “good faith” during the time. Despite accepting its rules had not been followed, the FIA stated that there was no possibility of altering the final results of the race or the championship.

Over 2022, Ben Sulayem made increasing transparency a key facet of his presidency. After the full Abu Dhabi report was shared publicly by the governing body, the FIA also published its report into the opening laps of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, sharing detailed analysis about the dangerous near-miss between drivers and a crane released onto the track and making swift changes to procedure. Drivers welcomed the move and have expressed a desire to continue dialogue with the FIA over future matters of safety.

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Shake-up in race control

Niels Wittich, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022
Wittich shared race director duties with Freitas
Before the findings of the FIA’s report were published, Masi’s departure as F1 race director was announced, at the end of his third season in the role. He later left the governing body entirely.

To replace him, the FIA made an unprecedented change. During 2022, two race directors were appointed to share the duties over the 22-race season. Former DTM race director Niels Wittich and veteran World Endurance Championship and Le Mans 24 Hours race director Eduardo Frietas would share the position.

Wittich began the season covering the first five grands prix before Freitas took over for the Spanish Grand Prix and Monaco. However, the delayed start to the Monaco Grand Prix following a sudden rain shower prior to the formation lap earned Freitas criticism from some drivers and team figures and tensions mounted again after drivers began complaining of a lack of consistency in how certain rules were applied.

Following a contentious drivers’ meeting with Wittich at the Red Bull Ring, Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director George Russell called for the FIA to consider a return to a single race director and more regular stewards between races. Following another controversy at Suzuka which led to an investigation into a crane being released on a wet track to the outrage of many drivers, the FIA announced Wittich would be the sole race director for the final phase of the championship. There has been no indication the rotation system will return for the 2023 F1 season.

One small but significant change following last year is that accredited media at grands prix are no longer offered the opportunity to put questions to the race director at the conclusion of a grand prix weekend. Throughout 2021, Masi took questions from media at the circuit after every grand prix and gave valuable insight into how and why various decisions were taken.

These regular sessions ended at the race before Abu Dhabi, in Jeddah, where Verstappen was penalised twice after he and Hamilton clashed repeatedly in an ill-tempered race. That round prompted no shortage of questions, as did Yas Marina a week later and many races during 2022, but the FIA has not offered media the opportunity to put them to Masi’s successors.

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Rules changes

As to be expected, the furore over the Abu Dhabi race led to a raft of regulation changes and clarifications in a bid to avoid any such situation from occurring ever again.

In response to Masi’s controversial decision only to allow the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to rejoin the lead lap, which violated the rules, the FIA introduced an automated system to determine which cars would be allowed to unlap, rather than at the discretion of the race director.

The wording of the relevant article 55.13 of the sporting regulations was also modified: The text originally stated “any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the Safety Car.” The revised text referred to “all cars”, removing any potential ambiguity, though race control had never previously carried out an instruction like the one given in Abu Dhabi.

The Safety Car procedure was tweaked again early in the 2022 season. Following F1’s return to Jeddah earlier this year, drivers were told they must keep single-file prior to restarts. Verstappen had drawn alongside Hamilton at the final restart in Abu Dhabi and briefly nosed ahead of him, prompting an another unsuccessful Mercedes protest, but from this year’s Australian Grand Prix drivers were told they must not overlap their car with the car ahead during rolling restarts.

In a bid to help improve drivers’s understanding of the rules of racing, the FIA produced a series of guidelines to advise them how stewards would be directed to assess incidents like collisions. These were shared with drivers by race director Niels Wittich early in the season, but do not appear to have done much to reduce complaints of inconsistency from competitors.

Track limits rules have also been simplified under the new race director regime. Rather than Masi’s approach of attempting to apply bespoke rules for each individual circuit, drivers have instead been informed that the white lines form the track limits and that laps where all four wheels are outside of the lines will be deleted.

The FIA also directed teams that they will no longer ask them to give up positions gained or retained by exceeding track limits or forcing other drivers off-track. Teams were told to use their own discretion to determine whether to ask drivers to give up positions if they feel they have broken the rules. But teams can – and regularly do – consult race control for clarification before they do so.

Another consequence of the Abu Dhabi controversy was the FIA’s creation of an off-site ‘remote operations centre’ in Geneva, that would provide third-party assistance to the race director and stewards when investigating incidents. While its role has largely been confined to the background, the FIA did outline in its Suzuka report that the centre had a large part in its investigations.

Finally, team principals are no longer permitted to speak directly with the race director. All communication between the teams and race control must come through the team’s nominated sporting director.

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Broadcast changes

Jonathan Wheatley, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Jonathan Wheatley’s chats with race control are no longer public
One major change to live coverage of Formula 1 in 2022 in the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi controversy was that radio messages between teams and race control are no longer broadcast in any form during coverage of grands prix. Over the tumultuous 2021 championship battle between Verstappen and Hamilton, radio clips of team principals Toto Wolff and Christian Horner and Masi were a regular soundtrack to the on-track drama.

As controversy exploded over the final lap of the race, Wolff’s impassioned protest of “no, Michael, no – that is so not right” was immediately immortalised in F1 fan culture. After the race, Masi’s defensive refrain of “it’s called a motor race, we went car racing”, became equally infamous.

While Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley his Mercedes counterpart Ron Meadows found their conversations with race control broadcast to millions on the world feed, their correspondence is now strictly private once again. As fascinating a glimpse behind the curtain as these radio snippets provided, it can only be for the good of the sport that these sensitive and occasionally heated discussions remain between just the two parties involved.

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Verstappen retains his crown as Mercedes stumble

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2022
Verstappen and Red Bull were both champions in 2022
Having battled blow-for-blow over the 22 race season in 2021, both Verstappen and Hamilton would have been worthy winners of the championship. Heading into a new season with vastly new regulations for 2022, the prospect of the two resuming their duel with Hamilton out to settle the score was a salivating prospect.

It was not to be. Mercedes arrived with a new car that was fundamentally hamstrung by the excessive aerodynamic porpoising it generated, while Verstappen and Red Bull found themselves having to fight against a resurgent Ferrari over the first part of the season.

Despite some early reliability problems, Red Bull built up their RB18 into an all-conquering behemoth and that was all Verstappen needed to take an unprecedented tally of 15 race wins and win the championship with four races to spare, securing his second consecutive world title. It took just one race later for Red Bull to secure the constructors’ championship – their first since 2013.

For Mercedes, 2022 marked a major downgrade in performance compared to Abu Dhabi. The team struggled to keep pace with Red Bull and Ferrari in the early stages of the season, having to work hard to make up the deficit over the course of the season. Eventually, Mercedes managed to bridge the gap to their rivals. But while Red Bull added 17 race wins to their tally over the season, Mercedes only had one victory all year – at the penultimate round in Brazil – and fell from constructors’ champions to third by the end of the season.

That race also saw the first clash between Hamilton and Verstappen since the drama which brought last season to a close. Will we ever see them go toe-to-toe for another title – and would they test the FIA’s rules and race management to breaking point again?

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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104 comments on “Abu Dhabi’s legacy one year on: How the controversial 2021 finale changed F1”

  1. “New FIA leadership promises transparency”

    … and fails to deliver.

    FIA or FIFA? F all difference.

    1. Are there any other sports where a two time world champion has to have not one but two asterisks in the record books?

      *illegal race
      **illegal car

      1. Asterisks are subjective. I personally rate the 2021 title much higher than any title won from 2014-2016, where a humongous engine advantage was frozen in (because of the token system) and customer teams weren’t even allowed to use the same modes as the works team, but that’s just me.

        1. Rolling on the floor, laughing.

          1. The answer of someone who doesn’t have any arguments, because indeed 2021 was a year with 2 very evenly matched cars, unlike 2014-2016.

        2. Exactly. I guess you can always add * in every season. This sport has never been about the best athlete unfortunately, but wo plays the regulation & lobby game best. Nevertheless you can still get a feeling of the drivers qualities and skill set through all the noise that is being made my all other elements. It does however also create some believers who cant distinguish their mans skills from the total package this athlete has available. It has distorted the last decade. Lets see what the new era brings.

    2. Comment of the decade.

  2. This fundamentally changed F1 for me. This wasn’t Senna or Schumacher blatantly running someone off the road in the heat of battle, but the whole organization bending and changing rules to get the result they wanted. It became WWE that night.

    1. @darryn

      the whole organization bending and changing rules to get the result they wanted

      And that is something that is very subjective. I think it is fair to conclude that the “whole organization bending and changing rules to” not decide the championship behind the safetycar, but you will never see any proof that Masi or the FIA would have acted differently if Verstappen was leading that race instead of Hamilton. So it will be your opinion.

      1. I think it is fair to conclude that the “whole organization bending and changing rules to” not decide the championship behind the safetycar, but you will never see any proof that Masi or the FIA would have acted differently if Verstappen was leading that race instead of Hamilton.

        Masi bent the rules, the FIA, for some unknown reason, chose to sweep his misdemeanours under the proverbial carpet.

        The end result, of handing a gift (unearned award) to a strong competitor, deserves to remain with an asterisk until such time as the FIA grow a pair and correct the records. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that.

        As to the RBR catering budget extension, that just raised the bump in the carpet a little more.

    2. @darryn
      If they wanted Max to win the title so badly, the easiest thing they could’ve done is penalize Lewis for the opening lap corner cut (like they did this year).

      They could’ve also brought out a safety car on lap 38 when Giovinazzi stopped.

      Your conspiracy doesn’t have any solid grounds.

      1. They could’ve penalised Hamilton also about the Silverstone clash.

        1. There was a penalty for the racing incident in which HAM was not fully to blame.

      2. If they wanted Max to win the title so badly, the easiest thing they could’ve done is penalize Lewis for the opening lap corner cut (like they did this year).

        Hamilton would have been given a 5-second penalty, he would still have come out ahead of Verstappen, it wouldn’t have changed anything.

        They could’ve also brought out a safety car on lap 38 when Giovinazzi stopped.

        Both of them would have pitted and Hamilton would have won the race.

        They could’ve penalised Hamilton also about the Silverstone clash.

        Hamilton was penalized for the incident, 10 seconds. Unlike Grosjean who did pretty much te same in 2018.

        1. Slap on the wrist, insignificant penalty, and that is a conclusion that could be reached 10 sec after the penalty was given, due to the speed of his and his opponents’ cars.

          1. Slap on the wrist, insignificant penalty

            Hmm. Just like the cost cap infringements.

    3. Masi had the race restart ready (with no overtaking) – and then changed. The stewards backed hum up.

      Nothing was later corrected.

      Lots of ‘errors’ by the FIA that night – and ever since.

    4. Agree 100%. What irks me is the arrogance of Christian Horner and Verstappen knowing from the investigation conclusion that in fact the wrong decision had been made and they act as if the championship was because of Verstappen’s driving

  3. Ruined what had been a very good if messy season and left a horrible stain on the sport that will likely never be cleared away.

    1. F1 has survived the death of many drivers, one as recent as 2014. One safety car call isn’t going to do anything to “stain” this sport, just wishful thinking. The sport today is as popular as ever before.

      1. It’s very much stained the sport, whether you like it or not. If it didn’t happen we wouldn’t still be talking and angry about it, which would make the fact Red Bull cheated all the funnier.

        1. It’s stained your image of it, perhaps. But you aren’t everyone.

          1. And neither are you. both opinions are at play here. This is not going away. 2021 is a stain on the sport.

          2. That’s right, sam, nobody is everyone.
            So stop telling people what is a stain and what isn’t, when it’s entirely subjective.

        2. If it didn’t happen we wouldn’t still be talking and angry about it,

          Who is we? Hamilton fans? The same fanbase that was inventing conspiracy theories of sabotage in 2016? Their anger is fairly meaningless, they are always angry unless Lewis has it super easy as he did in 2020.

          1. No. Those who just wanted to see the rules followed.

            But nah, must be the Hamilton fans.

  4. Mercedes immediately protested the results of the race on multiple grounds. Their key case argued that the FIA’s F1 race director, Michael Masi, had failed to follow the Safety Car procedure correctly on two counts – by failing to allow all lapped cars to unlap themselves behind the Safety Car and restarting the race a lap too soon.

    The article doesn’t make this clear, but ultimately the FIA only found that the first of these amounted to a breach of the rules – attributed to human error, and a new system was introduced to reduce the possibility of it happening again (albeit imperfectly, as we saw in Brazil this year). The second so-called error was down to a contradiction in the written safety car procedure, which was again corrected in the aftermath.

    So in a sense you could say that everything has worked as intended, as the root causes of the problem were identified and mitigating action was taken to prevent a reoccurrence. This does mark a significant improvement on the FIA’s attitude to previous problems it’s faced, such as the death of Jules Bianchi, where the instinct was to deflect, deflect, deflect and act to absolve itself and its officials of any blame.

    I would also add that one thing that Abu Dhabi has not done, despite all the wild and hysterical predictions to the contrary, is damaged the sport in terms of viewer numbers or revenues. Judging by the TV figures, and the reports of race tickets selling out months in advance, F1 is perhaps more popular than ever. Those hoping for some kind of financial reckoning after last year look to have been sorely disappointed.

    1. Agree the only reason it’s controversial is because all the fuss that had been created afterwards. Should have unlapped all the car’s immediately and than restart the race.

      1. It would arguably have been fairer to just expunge the race from the records and give Verstappen the title on countback. That though would have made the FIA look complete fools. The entire mess that followed was to protect the FIA’s reputation, which of course was impossible as all the facts came to light.

        1. Here’s an idea – why not just hand the title to Verstappen every year? That will take away all the annoying doubt and uncertainty that “sporting competition” puts into the situation, and do away with all the need to cheat.

          1. Would that stop people moaning about it?
            If so, I wish they’d do it.

        2. It would arguably have been fairer to just expunge the race from the records

          Good idea, also Singapore 2008 of Crashgate fame should be expunged from the records and the 2008 WDC given to its rightful owner Felipe Massa

          1. Good point, people tend to overlook that crashgate actually ended up costing massa the title.

    2. There wasn’t any contradictions in the rules at the time, only desperate attempts to justify what happened. Remember, Masi himself even clarified how the rules were meant to work less then a year before hand, with said rules undergoing no changes between said clarification and Abu Dhabi 2021.

      1. You should listen to the board radio’s everybody asks to unlap but it didn’t happen until it was almost too late. Even Vettel said after the race on the radio “why did they not let us go straight away thats what I don’t understand”. That would have been exactly according the rules.

      2. The words often don’t change in F1 regs, but the interpretations do, and are always agreed internally with the competitors.
        No two seasons are ever the same – and they often don’t even last a full season.

        1. You’re be very wrong there.

          1. How long have you been watching F1, craig? A few months?
            Interpretations and implementations of F1 rules change from race to race, and have done for at least 30 years.
            Everything is incident-specific.

            Have you not heard of anyone calling for consistency?

  5. Those hoping for some kind of financial reckoning after last year look to have been sorely disappointed.

    Sadly, just a bit more for the bump in the carpet.

  6. When talking about the 2021 season and whether it changed things going fwd I feel it is in place to reflect on more than just the final race. Its an easy shot to pick this particular race which disadvantaged one title contestant, while the other contestant had been disadvantaged earlier in the season to an extent that last race could even become controversial. This is just half a story.

    1. Indeed, the behaviour of one particular driver in the last 5 races was appalling at times and he should have been excluded from the results.

      1. Well, I guess that cuts both ways between both protagonists

      2. Silverstone was definitely appalling.

  7. The only people it has impacted is Wolff and Hamilton who are still stuck in 2021 and thinking they had any business winning a title after taking out their rivals multiple times and helped by multiple red flags and poor weekends.

    The FIA bending backwards to Wolff after the event is the worst thing to possibly happen. Pathetic really.

    1. And you call yourself a fan.

      The FIA “bent over backwards to Wolff” because they knew that their own rules had not been followed, and they needed to take some meaningful action to a) pacify the wronged party, b) bring the threat of legal action to a close, c) be seen to right the wrongs of Abi Dhabi.

  8. Abu Dhabi spelled backwards is Iba Hduba which roughly sounds like an ancient roman sentence where love, there pain.

  9. It has changed nothing really about the way the FIA sees or manages the sport and despite the firing of Masi, it hasn’t really made any tangible change to their stewarding either. The decisions they made at the race weekend and the months of denial before they eventually capitulated and admitted their fault in the way the race was handled as left a dark stain on the entire championship that year.

    This year with the budget cap breach which ultimately showed the FIA are unwilling to properly enforce their rules will once again show that there is little chance for you to be penalised for cheating.

    The sport really needs to take a look at it’s rulebook and the way it regulates the sport as the current situation means nearly every race we have some controversial incident of the interpretation of rules. If that means the removal of some rules and a formal move to the let them race mantra then that’s fine but just make it clear that’s the new standpoint and not some choice made by the race director or head steward for that particular race.

    Finally it’d be great if there was some move to seriously penalise malicious accidents whereby some competitors seem to intentionally crash in to others. It is ridiculous that a driver can deliberately crash into another car, admit they did so and then receive no severe penalty afterwards.

    All the above being said though, absolutely nothing will change, because the FIA and F1 are all about the money and keeping it flowing to their organisations, not improving the sport and its competition.

    1. It is ridiculous that a driver can deliberately crash into another car, admit they did so and then receive no severe penalty afterwards.

      Who did?

      I assume you are referencing Brazil, but that’s not what Verstappen said at all. He acknowledged there would be contact – but that isn’t at all admitting he deliberately crashed into anyone.
      Hamilton was free to avoid him – and given their relative positions, he arguably should have anyway.

      1. “He acknowledged there would be contact”

        I threw my fist towards his face, i knew there would be contact, but i didn’t punch him, i swear

        1. If his face moved toward your hand, while your hand was doing nothing illegal….

      2. Its very similar to applying the brakes when someone is behind you too I guess. How many times should a driver get to try (and succeed) and deliberately crash into a competitor before enough is enough. The attitude of you let me pass or we crash has to be expunged from the sport, its crass, dirty driving with little skill.

        1. The attitude of you let me pass or we crash has to be expunged from the sport, its crass, dirty driving with little skill.

          I think it depends entirely on what the rules allow and how they are used to prevent or discourage that behaviour.
          Competitors will always go to (and beyond) the limits of legality, because if you don’t, you don’t know where the limit is.

          If they are too strict on it, they risk discouraging racing altogether.
          And there’s too little of that in F1 already.

          1. I think it’s common knowledge that applying the brakes unexpectedly goes beyond the limits of legality.

          2. If Hamilton had obeyed the rules and not illegally slowed down himself in such a dangerous place, it wouldn’t have happened, would it.
            Driving unnecessarily slowly, anyone?

          3. Ah, Lewis’ fault. Gotcha.

          4. Well, he did run into another car instead of driving around it, didn’t he?
            It’s not like there wasn’t enough opportunity to overtake.

            A large part of racing is about being ahead, right?

          5. There is no obligation to pass another car.

            A large part, but not exclusively, as the absurdity around DRS zones has illutrated. It’s about being ahead at the chequered flag. Being ahead at any other time, is moot.

          6. You can’t be ‘braketested’ if you are ahead though, can you.

  10. petebaldwin (@)
    12th December 2022, 10:39

    It’s not something I really even consider now. It’s a bit like the Maradona handball – some people will hold on to that for life whilst others move on and continue enjoying the sport. Of the people I know who really kicked off about it when it happened, lots said “they’d never watch again” etc but they all still do. They’re much more bitter about the FIA now and complain about every decision that’s made (like people do with football) but other than that, nothing has changed.

    1. Some people are so frustrated that they need an explaination why their hero didn’t win an come up with conspiracy theories abouth the FIA and Massi. You can’t even compare it with the handball from Maradona because you can blame him for that but you can’t blame Max for the restarting off the race. If you want to compare it with football its not more than MB who doesn’t agree with the additional time decided by the referee

      1. The FIA admitted the correct procedures were not followed, there is no explanation needed, one driver was cheated out of victory to the benefit of another driver. That is fact and not theory. People don’t blame Verstappen for his part, the blame lies squarely with the FIA and Masi. I think Pete’s point is the controversy will live on for years despite there being no benefit to fans or the sport. He wasn’t equating it to Max cheating, in that race at least.

  11. Abu Dhabi was not a deliberate attempt to hand the title to Verstappen, otherwise Hamilton would have been forced to give the place back on lap one in what was a 50-50 situation. But instead it was breaking the rules to create an exciting conclusion to the season, and the fact that it changed the outcome of the championship makes it the worst piece of officiating in the history of the sport, in my opinion. Yes, Verstappen deserved the title more over the course of the whole season because both Hamilton and Mercedes made quite a few mistakes, but that doesn’t make Abu Dhabi any less farcical. However, the later revealing that Red Bull exceeded the budget cap means I now truly believe that Hamilton is the rightful champion of 2021 and Verstappen’s title is considerably devalued, despite him being the better driver.

    It is a very similar situation to 1994, where Benetton cheated in multiple ways: the illegal launch control, the removal of filters in the refuelling rig, and finally Schumacher turning in on Damon Hill in Adelaide. He was clearly the best driver, but still didn’t deserve the championship. In Suzuka 1989 and 1990 Prost and Senna each caused a deliberate accident, and both are also highly controversial moments in F1 history. I don’t think Prost’s move was too bad as it was committed in a slow corner and was a reaction to Senna’s moves in the past, although it was certainly wrong that Senna was disqualified from the race, while in 1990 Senna’s move was highly dangerous and deserved disqualification from the entire championship, although at the time it wasn’t entirely clear it was deliberate.

    Piquet’s two Brabham championships were very controversial, as the car likely had illegal fuel in 1983 but Renault never protested it, to the chagrin of Alain Prost, while in 1981 the car would go below the minimum ride height when at speed, but this was such an ingenious way of cheating that I think Brabham deserve that title. Other controversial championships include James Hunt in 1976, where both Jarama and Brands Hatch were questionable decisions, but as one went Hunt’s way, the disqualification overturned in Jarama, while the other didn’t, as he lost his win in Brands Hatch, I think this season was still a deserved championship for Hunt. In 1964, Surtees won after teammate Lorenzo Bandini punted his rival, Graham Hill, out of the race in Mexico, but I don’t believe it was deliberate.

    So none were as bad as 2021, because this was the only time the organizers deliberately broke the rules in order to interfere with the championship in Abu Dhabi (the budget cap was more a case of incompetence, allowing it to be written in the rules that a minor infringement cannot be punished severely if Red Bull accept the Breach Agreement), and the others were all decisions made by teams or drivers. The 1960 Italian GP is perhaps a worse motive, as the track layout at Monza was changed to the banking to suit Ferrari’s power advantage and all the other teams pulled out, but that didn’t really affect the championship result as Ferrari were not competitive that year. But I do think it can now be consigned to a freak moment in the history of the Formula 1, rather than a potential precedent for the future as 2022 has shown that the FIA are not keen to go in that direction in the future. All these controversial championships are part of what makes the history of the sport interesting. But it is still okay to argue about it, and will continue to be for decades to come, just as people still argue about the other controversial championships from the past.

    1. Spot on… what a nice read!

    2. and the fact that it changed the outcome of the championship makes it the worst piece of officiating in the history of the sport, in my opinion

      That shouldn’t make any difference.
      I ask you, then – if it hadn’t affected the outcome of the championship, would you feel so strongly about it?
      And what if it had happened at any other GP instead?

      Like at Bahrain, for example, where the track limits interpretation changed mid-race?

      1. People are still very much against bad officiating regardless of the race and I do recall a backlash against that happening in Bahrain.

      2. No, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about it if it hadn’t altered the outcome of the championship because it wouldn’t be as important, like how people don’t care as much if there is an incident outside the points than if it decides a race victory, or how people don’t care if someone cheats and finishes 11th compared to if they cheat and win: in the early 1990s BTCC ride-height checks were only performed on the top three so Tim Harvey deliberately finished fourth at Donington 1991 because he knew his car was illegal. (The exact facts of this story might be slightly wrong, in terms of what was illegal about the BMW and what position he had to finish – I don’t remember exactly).

        But I do get your point about Bahrain. Maybe it is not the worst piece of officiating, but rather the most significant piece of poor officiating in F1 history, because it decided the championship. Bahrain was less important because it was race one and we don’t know how differently the season would have panned out if Verstappen had won that race, although I agree he should have and it is one of the reasons why I say he would still be the deserving champion despite Abu Dhabi due to bad luck earlier in the season, if it weren’t for the budget cap. And a suggestion for worst piece of officiating in your sense would be Montreal 2017, where Daniil Kvyat was given a drive-through for incorrectly moving up to 11th after stalling on the formation lap, but then realised it should have been a stop-go instead so gave him that as well, a double penalty for one crime.

        1. No, I wouldn’t feel so strongly about it if it hadn’t altered the outcome of the championship because it wouldn’t be as important

          But it is exactly as important. Every GP has exactly the same impact on the championship, whether it be at the beginning of the season or the end.

          like how people don’t care as much if there is an incident outside the points than if it decides a race victory,

          I care equally as much. Perhaps even more about the ones outside the points, as they don’t get all the glory.

          or how people don’t care if someone cheats and finishes 11th compared to if they cheat and win

          Cheating is cheating, isn’t it?
          However, in F1 at least, there isn’t much advantage to be gained from cheating to finish 11th.

          Maybe it is not the worst piece of officiating, but rather the most significant piece of poor officiating in F1 history, because it decided the championship

          It didn’t ‘decide the championship’ any more than Bahrain, Monza, Silverstone, Baku or any other event. Each one has equal significance in a season-long championship as they all worth the same points.
          It just happened to be the final event – that’s all. That’s why people are so much more emotionally sensitive about it. Individual perception.

          I’d suggest that candidates for worst officiating in F1 includes pretty much every event collectively. Not a single one of them has been handled completely by the book.

          1. It just happened to be the final event – that’s all

            No, that’s not all.

            Many remain upset as it was the most egregious example of manipulation of circumstances to artificially manufacture an exciting conclusion.

            If it wasn’t the last event of the season, if there wasn’t a title hanging in the balance, there wouldn’t be a supposed emphasis on finishing under Green.

            Had it been at Silverstone, or Baku, or wherever – you genuinely believe the same actions would have been taken by Masi?

          2. Had it been at Silverstone, or Baku, or wherever – you genuinely believe the same actions would have been taken by Masi?

            I don’t know, and neither do you. Nor does anyone else.
            We only know what actually did happen, (some of) the events/circumstances that lead to it, and who (the teams, including Mercedes and Red Bull) supported the idea of prioritising finishing under green.
            I’m betting there was a lot more said and agreed amongst these ‘stakeholders’ in private about the arrangement prior to the GP than will ever be made public.

    3. Nice to read and it put things in a historic perspective. I hated Senna in 1990 for that moment. Still remember getting up early for the Japanish GP only to see the championship decided in seconds after the start. He later admitted he had done it delibarate but he had his reasons so for me together with Shumacher 1994 and 1997 the most controversial endings of a season.
      You state correctly that Abu Dhabi 2021 was not a deliberate attempt to hand the title to Verstappen but later you conclude that it was a deliberate attempt to interfere with the championship. That is a contratadiction in my view.

      1. There’s no contradiction as an attempt to force that last lap showdown is interfering directly in the championship, not just over who won but the positions of several others as well.

        1. Yes but the question is was it a deliberate attempt to interfere with the championship or was it just the outcome based on a decission of the RD?

    4. the organizers deliberately broke the rules

      No, they didn’t. The FIA race director messed up, not deliberately either, but enough to warrant being replaced.

      But this was only the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. The entire season had already deteriorated to the point where Toto Wolff felt he could publicly demand the race director send out marshals without the protection of the safety car because a neutralization would be bad for Mercedes. If that’s not an indication that the whole thing was about to fall apart, I don’t know what would be.

      Unfortunately, things haven’t really improved. The rules are still a free for all, with big teams getting free passes left and right, driving standards still lower than many lower categories, and ‘high tech F1’ still being unable to enforce track limits properly. And that’s not even mentioning the constant ‘5 second time penalty’ for even race ending collisions. The ‘show’ still reigns supreme.

  12. Can we move on, please?

    1. No, we cannot move on. Piquet is right. Senna should not have been disqualified about cutting the chicane. Balestre was biased.

  13. All things considered over the entire season, the right man won in the end.

    1. I disagree. Both drivers made mistakes, for instance Max brake testing Lewis in Saudi and crashing Lewis out Monza. But with RB breaching the cost cap rules and Masi manipulating the safety car rules in AD, i can’t get behind the notion that it went to the right man

      1. While Max was accumulating DNF’s that were out of his hands, Lewis was bagging lucky points from red flags and from Mercs wiping out their direct rivals. To say Max didn’t deserve a tiny bit of luck in comparison in AD is just sour grapes. He fully deserved it for driving more consistently and scoring more points despite having less opportunities to do so through extra DNF’s.

      2. Lewis was brilliant in 2021 too, he just didn’t have the same consistency and often got away with his mistakes.

        1. .Max made loads of mistakes in 2021, but got away with them–like crashing in quali in Saudi but still getting P2, or spinning behind the sc in Baku etc

          Max enjoyed a lucky red flag in Saudi and was deliberately helped by the likes of Alonso, Tsunoda, Gasly etc..they are all on record saying they would do what they could to help Max.

          Not convinced the title went to the right man.

          1. Itsmeagain (@)
            12th December 2022, 18:17

            You see what you wanna see. I saw a FIA leaning their head a bit to much toward Toto. That resulted in midseason rulechanges and hypocrite decisions during races (lewis crossing the track limit 29 times in one race so gaining an advantage, Max, one time, penalty) A hypocrite teamleader and their number one driver who questioned the legality of the RB (and engine) from race one of the 2021 season. and the list goes on and on.

            In short, it’s great you see all the shortcomings of the FIA, RB, Max and ‘the many rules that where broken’. But can you imagine that for every thing you see some other fan can mention a situation where rules where broken in favour of MB/lewis?

          2. Spinning in baku? It was a half spin and it was imola.

          3. Not convinced the title went to the right man.

            And, quite clearly, nothing could ever do that – mainly because you just don’t want it to.

  14. I personally know multiple people who stopped watching F1 after Abu Dhabi last year, in most cases older people who had watched for decades.

    Those people aren’t here to read the tortured apologetics of smug partisans, they just saw it for what it was and left. So they moved on with more than an asterisk or complaint, they simply concluded that F1 is fundamentally corrupt, not only AD but the last several races of 21 demonstrating this to be the case. They’re likely outnumbered by new fans pulled in by the Netflix reality tv show but they were real F1 fans who were thrown in the trash. I’m fully aware the response will be good riddance, if they were real Motorsport fans they’d still be here blah blah blah – it means nothing. Stop making excuses. I mention this only for the purpose of noting here that these people exist, likely in significant numbers, they’re correct, and their disgust precludes any level of interest in hearing your excuses and rationalizations.

    1. If that’s how they feel just about 2021, they probably weren’t really watching F1 impartially before.

      There’s an incredible list of things wrong with F1 from over the decades – but each one is always too far for someone. Apparently.
      Until the next one, of course.

      Whatever. Either they watch it for what they like about it, or they don’t. There aren’t too many other options.
      But nobody from F1 is going to miss them, because they didn’t even notice they were there before.
      F1’s scale far exceeds individuals.

      1. Well that’s OK then. Not.

        There’s such a thing as the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t think people who watch a sport for decades will be blind to its faults, or not watching impartially as you put it. Interesting that you know their minds. AD was very different from a lot of the other BS in the sport. The fact that F1 won’t miss these fans is the reason I noted their departure in the first place. They lost interest and that includes interest in your opinion, but it didn’t have to be that way.

        In a couple of cases I’m talking people who were following F1 since the mid 70s. You can dismiss them using the no true Scotsman fallacy if you like, it doesn’t change anything.

        1. There’s such a thing as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

          If it only takes one more straw, the camel was stuffed anyway.

    2. Itsmeagain (@)
      12th December 2022, 17:52

      Fans leaving the sport after AD? A bit more context about those ‘fans’ is welcome before running to conclusions. I know, for example, a lot of fans who left cuze one team and a certain driver managed it to turn this sport in one boring festival. Maybe it was interesting for most of the viewers from GB and all the newcomers who jumped the bandwagon (and that where a lot). So to weight your argument that fans have massively left the sport and all the new fans could only be those lunatic DTS viewers: from what country where those fans, and who did they regularly support? I don’t think they supported RB. What makes it to be a ‘real’ fan? Jumping the lewis bandwagon was probably okay but a Max fan must be a DTS unreal fan? Interesting. I’m following this sport for more than 39 years and never heard people complain about the new type fans Lewis attracted since 2007. When Lewis will leave the sport a big part of his fans will also leave. That’s how it works. Old or young, fan or real fan

      1. Dear God. I told you above they were F1 fans for decades – I can attest to this. But you turn them into ‘fans’ by putting the descriptor in inverted commas and conjecturing they can’t have been Red Bull fans? So, what, only RB fans are real fans? All others must be biased? What gives you the right to decide who a real fan is? And if that’s not what you meant, why bring it up? Are you a fan, or a ‘fan’? A person, or a ‘person’? And did I use the words “lunatic DTS viewers?”. I described DTS as a reality tv show, because that’s what it is – it’s not even controversial. They mix footage from different events to tell stories which didn’t even occur. So don’t put words in my mouth.

        There’s a world of difference between people who watch because of a particular driver or team, then drift away, and people who walk away in disgust and haven’t looked back because of race fixing, bent officiating or a realization that any sense of basic fairness has been ripped away, the injustice swept under the carpet. I’m simply reporting the existence of such people from personal experience, I predicted above that they’d be accused of not being real fans and your reflexive defensiveness speaks for itself.

        Next someone will ask me for their names and addresses so the real fan police can go and verify they really exist and are, heaven forbid, not non-RB fans. Then and only then will my comment be taken seriously. Oh, well.

        1. race fixing, bent officiating or a realization that any sense of basic fairness has been ripped away

          Welcome to F1, where team orders and in-season rule changes are the norm.

          Or don’t they count, in your opinion?

          1. Not to mention team bosses and executives privately (and temporarily publicly) lobbying the FIA for anything and everything that gives them the advantage – even during the race.

            It was going on long before 2021.

        2. Itsmeagain (@)
          13th December 2022, 11:50

          I read a lot of frustration, while at the same time you forgot you put the term ‘real fan’ in by yourself. That why I’m questioning about that.

          They’re likely outnumbered by new fans pulled in by the Netflix reality tv show but they were real F1 fans who were thrown in the trash.

          . The only thing I like to explain is that when you are living in your own bubble you often see things in a other way than from the outside. No, what I wrote is that RB fans are often seen here as ‘newcomers’ and I absolutely not called them ‘real’ cuze their are no ‘real/unreal’ fans in my opinion. Their are people who like the sport in general, or just focus on a certain driver. The last mostly from personal reasons or country related

  15. What changed that night was: VER world champion. Mistakes are everywhere. What is not a mistake is that HAM sent VER to the hospital only to reduce the gap to VER by 25 points in that race. These talks after a year do not help HAM get over it (in case they are propelled by HAM supporters)

    1. Max sent Lewis to the medical centre when he nearly decapitated him in Monza.

  16. Masi did wrong, but the biggest culprit is “the great white hope/honda dealership” and other stewards who decided to turn a blind eye to what Masi did and allow the result to stand

    1. Itsmeagain (@)
      12th December 2022, 17:59

      ‘White hope’? At least your comment puts some context about your other one’s. And that somebody has commented about this does also say enough about the average bias here.

  17. “Abu Dhabi’s legacy one year on: How the controversial 2021 finale changed F1” Well it’s definitely changed F1 journalism for the worse as it has allowed for endless filler content such as this article and many others elsewhere. Monthly. Seriously let it go. Who cares. I pray for a Ferrari vs McLaren title fight for the next 5 years.

  18. I’m going to take a beer and watch the last laps of Abu Dhabi again :-)

  19. No one has proof that the manipulated ending of the ADGP that ended the 2021 season was the result of one individual’s bad choices or the culmination of a conspiracy to deny Hamilton his 8th. Anyone who claims they know is pulling your leg…No one can know.

    We now know that the RB16B was the product of an illegal overspend and that most sports journalists are not capable of making a call based on what their eyes are seeing and that the governing body is pretty much feckless and is simply there for show.

    After the Mexican GP, Hamilton needed four perfect races to get back in the hunt and take the title. As far as I am concerned, he did just that but was robbed.

    1. We now know that the RB16B was the product of an illegal overspend

      With a known procedure, resulting in a prior-agreed penalty using rules which the teams themselves had a significant part in creating – and which was completely and properly applied.

      So what was the problem with it?

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