Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has admitted the events of Abu Dhabi in 2021 still occupy his mind at times, though more with incredulity rather than ‘anger’.
The story is well-known by now, with the race restarting for one final flying lap under controversial circumstances after the Safety Car was pulled in, with FIA race director Michael Masi seemingly going against the governing body’s own guidance surrounding lapped cars overtaking the Safety Car while doing so.
This move enabled Max Verstappen, sat behind Lewis Hamilton on much fresher, softer tyres, to pass the Mercedes driver on the last lap of the 2021 season, with Wolff making his feelings known over team radio by exclaiming to Masi: “No, Michael, no, this is so not right!”, while Hamilton claimed the result had been “manipulated”.
The Red Bull driver went on to take the title regardless, though Masi was removed from his position by the FIA after Formula 1’s governing body conducted a review into the decision-making surrounding those final laps. He eventually left the FIA entirely to become independent chair of the Supercars Commission in his native Australia.
While the flames of the controversy have now dimmed to embers over time, the Mercedes team principal admitted that day at Yas Marina still pops up in his mind regularly.
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“It was tough after Abu Dhabi,” Wolff admitted to The Times. “I have always liked the principle that the stopwatch never lies; the team that wins is the one that deserves to be the champion.
“But this was different. At the end of the race, an individual took decisions that were not reflected anywhere in the rule book and were so drastic that they made the outcome unbelievable.
“That is a moment when you fall out of love with the sport… the principle of fairness was breached.
“The FIA took the guy out of the job because it was a human error. But it’s done and dusted now. I still think about it a lot, but not with anger; it is just incomprehensible how it came about.”
Mercedes and Hamilton will look to regain both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ crowns in 2023, with the team’s eight-year Constructors’ streak having been ended by Red Bull last season after their great rivals took 17 wins from 22 races, with Hamilton searching for a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ title.
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