A new champ was born and a sport was killed the night of the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP. Yes, dramatic it may all sound, but the actions of the FIA that evening only bolstered arguments of those who have long refused to acknowledge motor racing as a sport. It was simply an error in judgment, but it erred on the side of entertainment, not sport. And that’s really a pity.
Much has been said about the two calls that night: Lewis Hamilton running wide and the race restart after the safety car. Regarding the first, I think Lewis should have given back the position he gained. But Max Verstappen did run him wide and Lewis genuinely had no room. Plus, Max didn’t lock up and kept it within the race track. So the FIA only asked Lewis to reduce the gap and not drop behind, and that was in the spirit of ‘letting them race’.
But that didn’t play out all through, did it? If that were the case, the FIA had far better options for the safety car restart. I would simply follow protocol, let all cars un-lap and finish under the safety car. Yes, an anti-climactic finish, but we’ve had this before and that’s motor racing; accidents do happen. Besides, in no way would it have robbed Max of a race, he was far behind and clearly not going to mount any late challenge.
But let’s acknowledge that even as a sport you do have to put on a show. Should it be at the expense of the spirit of competition? As so many have already said, if the un-lapping protocol was so undesirable, the race could have been red flagged and we’d have had a thrilling 3- to 4- lap duel with both cars on the same tyres. Or, the un-lapped cars could have been kept in place, Max would get about half a lap to clear them and Lewis a chance to try and defend better. Both scenarios would have ensured a fair fight to the championship contenders and, also importantly, to other competitors too. Some had their own races muddled up, as they have already stated and, of course, both these scenarios would have added that drama and excitement! Sigh.
No, I’m not a damp squib. Of course, I watch motor racing for the excitement. And this isn’t about siding with my favourite driver, either – in any case, he stopped mid race and stepped into retirement – this is simply about the love of sport. Yes sport, close hard human competition. I really hope future FIA decisions respect that fine line between sport and entertainment. That’s quite simply why I loathe the decision that night. It altered the natural course, was fair to only one of the two championship contenders and treated others like chopped liver. That’s not sport, that’s entertainment.