Best of 2021: Verstappen overtakes Hamilton on final lap to claim first F1 world championship
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Mercedes ended the dispute over the Formula One season finale on Thursday when it withdrew its appeal of the controversial finish that cost Lewis Hamilton a record eighth championship.
Mercedes had filed a pair of protests following Sunday's race, in which a late crash at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped Max Verstappen beat Hamilton for the title. Both protests were dismissed and Mercedes then asked for reconsideration at the International Court of Appeal, a process that could have dragged into next year.
“We left Abu Dhabi in disbelief of what we had just witnessed," Mercedes said in a statement. “Of course, it’s part of the game to lose a race, but it’s something different when you lose faith in racing.”
Mercedes was protesting the use of the safety car following a crash with five laps remaining. Hamilton had a nearly 12-second lead with Verstappen in second when the crash brought out the yellow flag.
Verstappen pitted for fresh tires while Hamilton stayed on track. The race director initially said lapped drivers could not pass the safety car, then reversed the call in a decision that returned Verstappen to second when the race resumed with a lap remaining.
Verstappen then passed Hamilton to win his first world championship; Hamilton was denied a record eighth title, one more than Michael Schumacher.
Mercedes said Thursday, ahead of the season-ending gala in Paris later in the evening, that it decided with Hamilton not to move forward with the appeal. Hamilton and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff both skipped the gala, and Mercedes did not send its constructors' championship-winning cars to Paris for photographs.
“I won’t be there because of my loyalty to Lewis and because of my own personal integrity," Wolff said.
The Mercedes protest was over safety car rules that “were applied in a new way that affected the race result, after Lewis had been in a commanding lead and on course to win (the championship)" and Mercedes said its appeal was “in the interest of sporting fairness."
Mercedes said it was satisfied after discussions with both the FIA and Formula One over clarity on the rules “so that all competitors know the rules under which they are racing, and how they will be enforced.”
The FIA late Wednesday said it will conduct an analysis of the ending and acknowledged the controversy is “tarnishing the image of the championship.” The FIA delivered a report on the incident to the World Motor Sport Council in Paris and said a further review will help understand why the race ended as it did.
“We welcome the decision by the FIA to install a commission to thoroughly analyze what happened in Abu Dhabi and to improve the robustness of rules, governance and decision making in Formula 1. We also welcome that they have invited the teams and drivers to take part,” Mercedes said.
Mercedes also congratulated Verstappen and Red Bull, and called the 24-year-old Dutchman a “flawless sportsman on and off the track” who “delivered a faultless performance.”
“We would like to express our sincere respect for your achievements this season," Mercedes said. “You made this Formula 1 championship title fight truly epic. Max, we congratulate you and your entire team. We look forward to taking the fight to you on the track next season.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on Wednesday had called for the controversy to end. He also said a number of variables out of Red Bull’s control came into play that decided the race, beginning with Nicholas Latifi's crash with five laps remaining.
“We didn’t ask Nicholas Latifi to crash, that happens," Horner said. “And we found it surprising that Mercedes strategically, you know, they left Lewis out on a set of tires that had to have been close to 40 laps on them. So of course, if the race were to restart, he was going to be vulnerable.
“Strategically, that was a mistake. I think we made the right strategy call, and as the following car on a track that isn’t easy to overtake, Max still had to make that pass. And he did it,” Horner said. “A safety car caused by Williams gave us an opportunity to throw something strategically at those last five laps and it paid off.”
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