Formula 1

GP TITLE WON AND LOST – OR IS IT?

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MAX Verstappen’s title remains a war of words, writes PETER COSTER:

No, no, no, not the lawyers!” The last time I wrote those words was before the race for the presidency of the United States between George W. Bush and  Al Gore was decided by the US Supreme Court.

In the world of Formula One, the world’s most expensive sport watched by a global audience of hundreds of millions, the result of the last Grand Prix of the season at Abu Dhabi has become a race between international lawyers.

Who will have the fastest tongue?

The Mercedes team has lodged two official protests, both dismissed and has now lodged an appeal against these decisions.

The forthcoming lawyers’ fest follows the most controversial decision in Formula One history, based on the interpretation of the rules of racing by race director Michael Masi and now under review by the FIA and failing that perhaps the civil courts.

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The Australian race director from Sydney was besieged with frantic phone calls from Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner and Mercedes principal and part owner Toto Wolff during and after the race.

Masi had Horner on one line and Wolff on another as the most dramatic finish to an F1 world drivers’ championship since the series started in 1950 unfolded.

For now, Max Verstappen is the world champion and Lewis Hamilton is the vanquished seven-time world champion, believing he had an eighth world championship in sight as he led the race by some 11 seconds.

It was a seemingly insurmountable lead in F1 where cars are often separated by tenths, sometimes hundredths and even thousandths of a second.

The Mercedes driver’s dominance came by a similarly controversial decision on the first lap of the deciding race on Sunday.

Verstappen was on pole but slow off the mark with wheel spin.

Hamilton was not only in front but on hard tyres while Verstappen was on softs and would have to come in for a tyre change.

But on turn seven, the Red Bull driver saw his chance as Hamilton ran wide.

Verstappen stayed within track limits as Hamilton ran off the track and regained the lead by cutting across the next corner.

He should have been ordered to let Verstappen retake the lead for having taken an unfair advantage.

That didn’t happen. The stewards decided Hamilton slowed after the incident, which handed  back any advantage he gained by cutting the corner.

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Verstappen had stayed within track limits and should have been given the lead.

This was the latest questionable decision in a number of controversial rulings this season that have gone against the Dutch driver.

The most serious was when Hamilton dived inside Verstappen’s Red Bull on the fastest corner at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

It was a move fraught with disaster.

Verstappen was turning in as he was entitled to when the Mercedes sent him into the barrier at 320 kph with an impact of 52g.

Hamilton held the winner’s trophy aloft as Verstappen was taken to hospital, somehow avoiding  serious injury.

At Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, it appeared Verstappen had suffered once more having been penalised in the previous race in Saudi Arabia for racing too aggressively.

The Red Bull warrior saw what was a 32 point advantage over Hamilton in earlier races turn to going into Sunday’s race at Abu Dhabi on level points with Hamilton.

After the stewards decided there was no need for further investigation after the first lap incident, it looked as if the race were Hamilton’s to lose, unless there was something entirely unexpected around the corner.

And so there was.

With only five laps to go, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barriers, bringing out the safety car.

As the debris was removed from the track, it looked as if Hamilton would cruise to victory as the laps unwound.

Christian Horner said he asked for help from “the racing gods and they delivered.”

Verstappen was brought in for fresh tyres while Hamilton stayed out on worn tyres in the race lead.

Race director Masi decided lapped cars would be  kept behind the safety car and between Hamilton and Verstappen.

There were five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen but Masi then reversed that decision to allow Hamilton and Verstappen to fight out the last lap of the race.

He told an incandescent Toto Wolff it was to allow the race to be decided on the track and not behind the safety car.

Verstappen made the pass but the aftermath it seems will depend on the lawyers.

Christian Horner was crying with tears of joy after Verstappen took the chequered flag though saying he will attend future races in the company of a barrister.

Meanwhile, Toto Wolff who did bring a top QC with him to Abu Dhabi, is assembling a litigation of lawyers, if that is the correct collective, to overturn the championship.

Had Masi not decided to let the lapped cars pass the safety car, Verstappen would not have been able to overtake Hamilton on the last lap.

Words such as “chaos,” “confusion,” “devastation” and finally “befuddlement” were used to describe what happened.

Masi told a raging Toto Wolff: “Toto, it’s called a motor race.”

How Hamilton might have described it after the race could only be guessed at as he politely congratulated the Red Bull driver on his first world drivers’ championship.

He didn’t complain and it will be left to opposing lawyers to explain. 

Hamilton showed humility and class in not joining in the pile-on between the Mercedes and Red Bull teams.

Seeing Hamilton win an eighth world championship while trundling across the line behind a safety car would have left a bitter taste in the mouths of millions and in the opinion of many Masi got it right.

The fathers of these two great drivers embraced their sons for long minutes after the race. 

There were tears from Hamilton’s father, who worked at three jobs to finance his son’s early career.

Wet cheeks, too, on the face of Jos “The Boss” Verstappen, who competed in more than 100 GPs as a driver.

George W Bush, known as “Dubya” to distinguish him from his father, won the presidential race that ended in the US Supreme Court.

So here’s to Michael Masi, the Super Cars guy from Sydney, who took over as F1 race director when Charlie Whiting died before the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2019.

The lawyers might be rising their glasses as the F1 world drivers’ championship heads to the courts.

But Masi made a race of it.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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