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Abu Dhabi GP: Karun Chandhok on the controversial finish to Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton’s epic F1 title duel



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Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyse how Max Verstappen won the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton

Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyse how Max Verstappen won the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton

That was the craziest final 10 minutes to a Formula 1 World Championship season that I can remember!

For decades to come, anyone who was in Abu Dhabi will be telling their grandchildren that we were there to witness an extraordinary weekend of intense battling between two supremely talented drivers after one of the greatest seasons in F1 history.

What happened at race end and what were possible alternatives?

Let’s start with the finish because that’s what everyone wants to hear about.

In my view, the whole thing seemed a bit confusing with the message first that “lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake the safety car” followed by the message to just the five cars between Lewis and Max being told to pass.

That effectively handed the championship to Max as he had the fresh soft tyres while Lewis was on a well-worn set of hard ones and therefore had little chance to fight back.

Last lap drama from Christian Horner's Cam

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Last lap drama from Christian Horner’s Cam

Last lap drama from Christian Horner’s Cam

I think a fairer and still very exciting finish would have been to either:

a) red flag the race when Nicholas Latifi crashed and then have a four-lap sprint to the flag with everyone on fresh tyres

or

(b) leave the lapped cars in between Lewis and Max so there would have been more of a contest on the final lap because I think Max would have passed the lapped cars in the first half of the lap and then been attacking Lewis in the second half.

Max Verstappen passes Lewis Hamilton on the final lap in Abu Dhabi to win the 2021 F1 Championship!

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Max Verstappen passes Lewis Hamilton on the final lap in Abu Dhabi to win the 2021 F1 Championship!

Max Verstappen passes Lewis Hamilton on the final lap in Abu Dhabi to win the 2021 F1 Championship!

To bring out a red flag, because of all the procedures involved, would have needed race director Michael Masi to almost pre-decide that “if a car crashes at Turn 14, we’ll call a red flag”, and clearly that wasn’t the case.

In a normal race weekend, a safety car call would have been totally expected. I also think the race would have just carried on under the safety car until the finish with Lewis in front.

But this wasn’t a normal race and it does feel like there was a real desire (understandably) to finish this great season under green-flag racing conditions.

Mercedes are clearly not letting this go and have lodged an intention to appeal the result and potentially take it to the higher judicial levels within the FIA, and I can even see them taking it to court which will be a shame for the image of the sport after this incredible season.

While I can 100 per cent sympathise with Lewis and Mercedes because until lap 52, they had the title in their pocket, I just don’t see how the result can get overturned because ultimately, the race ran to its full distance and the result was declared. Are they going to take Carlos Sainz’s podium away or Yuki Tsunoda’s fourth place on a countback?

A dramatic, tense end to a gripping season

Karun Chandhok and Damon Hill analyse the changes made to the Yas Marina Circuit for the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi

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Karun Chandhok and Damon Hill analyse the changes made to the Yas Marina Circuit for the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi

Karun Chandhok and Damon Hill analyse the changes made to the Yas Marina Circuit for the 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi

The whole weekend was super intense.

I was particularly nervous as I had been a part of the design team who had done the re-configuration of the Yas Marina circuit and now all of a sudden, it was going to have millions of eyes on it for the most high-profile race in F1 history.

Lewis started off the weekend saying that he thought the track would suit Mercedes and Red Bull’s Christian Horner jumped on that bandwagon all through free practice taking little digs about how I was helping Mercedes.

It was obviously a joke because the track design work started a year ago and was signed off in the Spring this year, a long time before anyone knew what sort of track would suit each car.

Christian and I knew he was saying it in jest but the Max superfans and the clickbait media went mad on Friday as if I was some form of Mercedes employee! Mind you, when Max took pole on Saturday, I didn’t hear any thanks from Christian about the final sector of the track suiting their car superbly.

Max’s qualifying lap was absolutely sublime. If ever you want an example of a young sportsman capable of soaking up pressure on the biggest weekend of his career, that was it. He was inch-perfect and Lewis had no answer to that.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go wheel-to-wheel and the Mercedes goes off track down at Turn Seven!

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Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go wheel-to-wheel and the Mercedes goes off track down at Turn Seven!

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go wheel-to-wheel and the Mercedes goes off track down at Turn Seven!

But come the start of the race, the Mercedes launched into the lead and the battle down to Turn Six was pretty tasty. I personally think that Lewis left a gap which Max was able to go for and also crucially he stopped the car in time to make the corner. If Max could slow down enough, then Lewis could have also done so and therefore I think he should have given the place back to Max.

Either way, as we saw in the previous three races, once again the Mercedes was clearly the faster car in terms of race pace.

Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi all have very different circuits but on all four tracks, the Mercedes had superior speed on the Sundays.

I think even if Lewis had given the place back to Max, he would have passed him quite quickly after that. In end, the gap just grew steadily and despite Sergio Perez’s best efforts, it never really looked like Max was going to challenge Lewis until that final lap.

Max and Lewis: The stars that made the year

Neither driver deserved to lose that World Championship.

They have both been driving on such a consistently high level despite the pressure of the title battle. Max scored a record 18 podiums this year and the only races he didn’t finish first or second were when he had incidents (Silverstone, Hungary, Monza) or a tyre failure (Baku).

Lewis and Mercedes started the season on the back foot, with a car that looked very tricky to drive but they worked together as a team, dug themselves out of a hole and came to the final part of the season with the faster package.

Lewis’ victories in Bahrain and Brazil this year were amongst his best of all time.

On the whole, this was a year where F1 won. After a long period of Mercedes dominance we needed a proper inter-team battle and Red Bull delivered that challenge superbly. The action on track was really high-quality stuff, punctuated by controversial moments and drama while the war of words between the team bosses off the track kept the headlines coming all season long. Bring on 2022!




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