This Article was written by Amelia Vivash, year 11
On Sunday 9th of October, it happened again. They say that the first time can be beginners' luck, but when Max Verstappen stormed into this season and left all of his competitors behind, it became increasingly clear that this…was no fluke.
Or was it?
Who was the 2021 Formula One World Champion? Max Verstappen? Lewis Hamilton? Neither? It is completely fair to speculate that either one of them could have won and with rules bent and trophies handed out, it may have now been too long since that fateful lap took place for it to ever be reversed. As the safety car retracted into the pits, Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes both exclaimed, ‘No!’ In dismissal of these outcries, Michael Masi (2021 F1 Director) said, ‘It is a motor race, Toto.’ Though he was correct, it is important to note it is motor racing that deals with the most money in the whole world. For this, I think Hamilton and Wolff were rightly upset.
So what happened? Well, last year the entire circus that is Formula 1 rocked up to the Yas Marina circuit (Abu Dhabi) and two drivers had winning on their minds: Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Following the withdrawal of the safety car, the last lap of the final Grand Prix of the season, (quite poetically) finished with a riveting race between the seven-time World Champion, Hamilton and the emerging star of Verstappen, with the Red Bull (Verstappen) just being too fast for the former. It should be noted that what led to these circumstances was unfair due to Max Verstappen not having been anywhere near Lewis Hamilton.
When the safety car emerges it is permissible for the lapped race cars to unlap themselves. However, in this instance, the director of F1 Michael Masi decided it fair to only let some cars unlap themselves, only those between the leader and Max Verstappen, placing Lewis and Max in a 1-2 position. The Red Bull (having been the fastest car all season) was certain of a newfound victory, however, Lewis Hamilton fought until the end in order to rectify this injustice, ultimately failing against the quicker car of Verstappen.
Speeding across the finish line to the joy of all the Dutch fans, I found myself very confused as to what had just happened. Though I believe the word cheating is a strong word, I do wonder where this blatant use of biassed choices leaves the sport as a whole? Was Michael Masi on Red Bull’s side? It’s hard to know if we will ever find out.
Lewis Hamilton is now 37 years old, with seven world championships in his back pocket (equal to Michael Schumacher), and it is hard to ignore the fact that last year’s win would have handed him worldwide fame for the rest of his life. With a retirement date approaching quickly, it is sad to think that a home in the hall of fame was stolen from him by a bad call from one man. Fans have rushed to his defence, such as South African footballer Cyril Zuma saying, ‘Winning by cheating is not winning.’ With this statement, I must agree. It is impossible to know if this was fixed perhaps due to the rising popularity of Netflix’s docuseries, ‘Drive to Survive’ in order to generate excitement perhaps? Even if it was not for this reason, it is hard to ignore the obvious bias, whether or not Max Verstappen and Red Bull were involved. We may never know, though it does not stop fans from speculating. Even Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he feels he was ‘cheated’ out of last year's title.
Though I do not identify as a Mercedes fan, I sympathised strongly with these accusations, and again this year, an unsure win has been received by Max Verstappen, who I’m sure is a very happy man.
You see, just a few weekends ago, the win of Max Verstappen was awarded full points despite not even finishing 75% of the race, which is contrary to F1 rules- sound familiar? Though it is unlikely Charles Leclerc (Of Ferrari, and Verstappen’s competitor) would have caught up by the end of the year, it does seem weird for them to have handed out the title so hastily. Some F1 fanatics speculate that the championship was given to him early as Mercedes proceed to challenge his win last year which may be revoked with appropriate evidence, thus prompting F1 directors to accelerate the affirmation of Max Verstappen’s win in order to stamp out any doubts of him as an F1 driver (he happens to be one of the most popular, you wouldn’t want to upset the fans, would you?)
Standing on the podium above teammate Sergio Perez and opponent Charles Leclerc, Verstappen was elated, though unsure whether he had won anything other than the race, which was later revealed to him mid-interview. Though the sounds from the Mercedes garage were not nearly happy, bordering on irate, the entire team berated yet another irresolute championship, on which their enemy Max Verstappen stood proudly on top of.
Despite this, we have got to consider both sides of the story which means considering things from Max’s point of view. In the last two years, executive decisions have been made that determined Max Verstappen as a now two-time World Champion; he has received both these awards with glee. This year he thundered through his competition to an undoubted win (at least by the end of the season) though Mercedes continue to pursue lawsuits concerning these titles, despite them not being in the running this year. Max Verstappen has assisted his team in also (likely) claiming this year’s Constructors Championship, he must ask the question amidst these accusations, ‘How much must I win before it is acceptable?’ for he has claimed more titles than many F1 drivers do in their lifetimes and yet his position is still challenged.
With only a handful more races to go this season, I do wonder if next year will contain a similarly challenged championship to the previous two years. I wonder if what follows will be another dubious F1 championship.