And now for something completely different: Thoughts on the 2021 F1 WDC

Not in December, and not until this morning did I think about writing a post regarding the 2021 F1 World Drivers Championship. I suppose five weeks without a race and many still before the 2022 season start finally got to me. The only other time I mentioned competitive racing was a mention about Grant’s career on the post he wrote.

I started watching F1 in the early 2000s when sharing an apartment with a Ferrari fan. As a result, I too, am a fan of the red team. And I was a Kimi Räikkönen fan from the start. His departure from the sport was a sad day. All of this is to say I’m no more qualified to comment on the sport than any other average fan. But like most fans of the sport, I have opinions about the 2021 Abu Dhabi race that decided the World Drivers’ Championship. And they probably won’t be very popular.

Fortunately, that’s never stopped me. So, let’s start.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton on either side of the World Drivers’ Championship trophy.

Politics will ruin everything

In 2021, team principals got on the radio to Race Control at the slightest inconvenience. Despite every team and driver knowing that a position should be given back if they gained a position by going off-track or gained a lasting advantage from driving off-track. Yet, that seldom happens without someone telling the team or driver to do so. As result, I believe the 2021 WDC was decided by politics.

Leave Latifi out of it

The driver that came of worst, was Nicholas Latifi, the Canadian Williams Racing driver who was minding his own business and then had the misfortune to crash into a wall with five laps remaining in the race. This resulted in the safety car being deployed, which played a role in final outcome. His team might identify something he did wrong technically, but as far as the race and the ultimate outcome of the WDC is concerned, the man is completely blameless. The fact that he received death threats is despicable. This accident may have been the catalyst of the result, but wasn’t ordered by some evil genius or anticipated by anyone. Latifi’s life wouldn’t have been impacted by either of the two contenders’ victory. So why would he purposefully “throw” the competition?

Masi(ve) mishap

“It’s called a motor race. We went car racing.”

I wonder if Michael Masi could take those words back if he could. And, like many other fans, teams, drivers, etc., I wonder what led him to the decision that only some of the lapped cars may unlap themselves, but not all of them. As a result, Verstappen was directly behind Hamilton when the race resumed when the safety car returned to the pit on the last lap.

This brings it all back to my first point. This, Michael, is called politics, not racing.

Safety car during the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix on 12 December 2021

A clinical approach

17 of the 19 drivers on the starting grid of the Yas Marina just wanted to earn points for their teams (higher rankings in the Constructor’s Championship is beneficial for the entire team – including the men and women at the factories) and maybe improve their own ranking. Fifth place in the drivers’ standings was a battle between Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, and McLaren’s Lando Norris. In the end, there would be a single point between Norris and Leclerc, with the Monegasque driver’s teammate finishing 5.5 points higher and clinching fifth.

The outcome of the WDC would have very little impact on these drivers’ fates. As a result, rather than a political campaign, maybe a clinical approach would’ve been a better option to pit two remarkable drivers against each other. What do I mean? An obstacle course with various challenges and restrictions in difficult-to-overtake areas, varying track conditions, simulated yellow flags, etc. It can even be a timed run so the drivers don’t have to be on the track at the same time, and can observe their competitor’s strategy.

But no F1 fan wants that. We want clean, fair racing, not biased by politics, a racing director, or team principals. And that Abu Dhabi race result, was not what we wanted.

A word on the Red Bullies

We see you, Hemlumt Marko, having a chat with Pierre Gasly on the grid on race day. You don’t consider the (very talented) Frenchman to be good enough for the RBR team. And we outsiders don’t know what you tell him during those chats, but we do know that any hindrance a driver from sister team Torro Rosso can offer to benefit Verstappen is a topic that might come up. Doctor Marko and Christian Horner are two entitled old white men who look down on every single driver who isn’t Max. That includes Sergio Perez. Fortunately, he’s a team player. Horner looked so chuffed that he came up with the term “Tsunoda’d” after the Mexican Grand Prix qualifying. He later said further analysis changed his take on the incident and that social media “exploited” the comment. Do you know who else blames media when they come under fire? Politicians.

After 17 years with RBR, you’d think Horner would understand the weight of words spoken in media interviews. Never say something in the heat of the moment that you might regret. If you’ve thought about it for a few days and still want to say it, put it in a statement, vetted by your team’s media manager.

Do I think Max Verstappen should be the 2021 World Champion?

Not the way it eventually played out, no. He has shown that he has the talent, and like his handlers, the entitlement. My honest feeling – and I say this knowing the possible consequences – is that maybe Mr Masi felt like a tired mom. If you give a nagging toddler what he wants, he usually quiets down. So, if Max won, maybe the Red Bullies will leave him in peace. Would that make Toto Wolff and the Mercedes team the “lesser of two evils”? I don’t know. I do feel that Toto – despite being extremely passionate about racing – is the more mature of the two.

Verstappen is an F1 World Champion. Whether he took the title on merit in 2021 or a future year, the fact that he has the makings of a champion is indisputable. From the persona we know through the media, I don’t think he has a single sleepless moment about how he obtained the title in 2021. It can’t be taken away from him now. We can’t change the past.

The FIA can investigate the matter and admit that a mistake was made, implement procedures that will hopefully ensure it’s not made again, but they can’t take back the championship title. Or re-allocated it.

Will Lewis Hamilton resign from F1?

Only time and Lewis can tell. I honestly hope he doesn’t. I can imagine the mixed feelings he must have.

You know how, when a break heals, it’s the strongest part of the bone? I’m not saying Lewis is damaged – injured, possibly, but not broken. But perhaps 2021 was the break that makes his career stronger. He has so much talent, many racing years, and let’s not forget an eight WDC title (at least) that the racing world would be poorer if he resigned.

I feel that if Lewis resigns as an F1 driver, he will not return as a driver, unlike Kimi, Fernando, and even Michael Schumacher. I also know there are people in the Verstappen camp who’d see it as a double victory if he resigned. And while he doesn’t owe them, or anyone else, any reason for whatever he ultimately decides to do, I really hope he won’t give them the satisfaction.

When he first started winning races and championships, I was not a great fan of Lewis, who I felt was arrogant and full of himself. He has matured, mellowed, and fought damn hard as a person of colour to be a humble victor. Perhaps Red Bull should take a page from his book – not lashing out in disappointment, but taking time to quietly contemplate the future.

The rest of the 2022 F1 grid

I won’t speculate about who could/should replace Lewis if he decides to retire. I’m excited for the new car, new regulations, new circuits and 23 races. It’s going to be a tough year for all the teams with a lot of travel, but in theory should be a great year too, with the playing field more level. I believe the Ferrari power team of Carlos and Charles will drive the constructor back to its former glory, building on their success of 2021.

1 Comment

  1. Odia van Loggerenberg

    I agree Martha, politics are taking the fun out of sport. Honest.

    Reply

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