Abu Dhabi investigation won't change 2021 F1 title result — MPH


Lewis Hamilton has no hope of being awarded the 2021 F1 title by the FIA's Abu Dhabi GP investigation, writes Mark Hughes; the real injustice was how the rules were applied and not the outcome

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton either side of F1 world championship trophy

Mario Renzi/F1 via Getty Images

The ‘will he/wont he’ saga of whether Lewis Hamilton will take part this season took another turn a few days ago with the FIA statement about its ‘detailed analysis’ of events at last year’s Abu Dhabi season finale. It stated that the outcome of this investigation will be announced at the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Bahrain on 18 March – ie the first day of practice for the opening round of this year’s championship. Which sounds like the governing body decoupling itself from what it might perceive to be an attempt by Hamilton to apply pressure, refusing to be held hostage to the driver’s decision by effectively forcing him to make it before he knows the outcome of the investigation.

But however unjust what happened in Abu Dhabi was – and the misapplication of the sporting regs changing the outcome of the race and the title was unjust – there is zero chance of the outcome being changed. That just isn’t going to happen. There will likely be some changes made to the regulations to avoid a repetition, there may be some associated personnel changes.

That will doubtless enrage fans of Hamilton and please his detractors, such is the unfortunate tribal aspect of much of F1 fandom. But there are some other important de-couplings to be made here.

Lewis Hamilton holds arm out

Only Hamilton knows the reason for his current silence

Grand Prix Photo

The first is that between how Hamilton’s refusal to confirm he will be taking part is being viewed and how it may actually be from Hamilton’s own perspective. They are not necessarily the same at all. It’s being widely assumed that he’s chosen to make himself a martyr to the cause of exposing what he believed in Abu Dhabi was a manipulation. Which suggests he’s taking up a position for the purposes of transmitting a message. But what about the position of not even thinking about what the outside world perceives, of simply being deeply hacked off because of a belief that the regs were misapplied – thereby making the whole battle for a championship potentially meaningless, that the ground beneath him has moved like shifting sand? If he cannot trust that the game is going to be fair, he may not wish to take part. Only he knows what the true motivation is, but there’s an important distinction to be made between internal and external here. His actions may be driven by a completely different motive to what is being assumed.

The rules were incorrectly applied. That’s the injustice. Not who lost out and who benefitted.

The other decoupling it would be useful to make in trying to understand what is happening here is that of the campaigning from Hamilton’s fans to reverse the decision. It’s a very understandable reaction but it’s a protest based on the fact that it was their driver who lost out to the misapplication of the rules, rather than a protest against the misapplication itself. It’s not the same thing because it’s irrelevant who benefitted and who missed out. Would those same fans be campaigning for the correct application of the regs to be enforced if it had been Max Verstappen who’d lost out to Hamilton by the same process? No? If not, the protest is effectively just saying we didn’t like the outcome rather than saying we object to how the outcome was arrived at.

The injustice is the way the outcome was decided. The actual outcome is 100% irrelevant.

For the record, as I’ve made clear here before, yes I 100% believe the rules were not correctly applied. And yes that changed the outcome of the race and the championship. That’s the injustice. Not who lost out and who benefitted.

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Was there a conspiracy to lose Hamilton the title? Not for one moment do I believe that. How would there have been time to form such a complex and co-ordinated set of actions from the random incident of Nicholas Latifi crashing with six laps to go? How would the powers that be think that such a subversion would go unnoticed and not bring ridicule?

Compare the likelihood of that conspiracy to that of a race director overwhelmed with the demands put upon him in an extremely time-pressured situation, feeling a misplaced urgent responsibility to getting the race live before the end while getting lobbyists live in his ear – sporting directors and team principals from both teams. The chances of getting any call right in such a situation are slim. He made a call which the regulations didn’t entitle him to make. The way the system is set enhanced considerably the likelihood of such an error of judgement being made.

Another useful decouple: if you take luck for both drivers through the season out of the reckoning, Verstappen would have sealed the title with two rounds still, to go. That has zero relevance on the injustice of how the title was decided in Abu Dhabi. Had that race run its proper course Hamilton would have been the champion and in the analysis of the season afterwards we could have said it was close and Verstappen was unlucky to have lost. That’s just one of those things – luck is just part of sport. Misapplication of the regulations is not.

It’s a mess and it’s all been created by that pressured incorrect application of the regulations. But the outcome is the outcome.