Brundle: Not only Hamilton fans will ‘forever think’ he was robbed of 2021 championship

Max Verstappen won the 2021 championship in dramatic and controversial style.

Ex-F1 racer Martin Brundle was left feeling “uncomfortable” by a radio message from Red Bull’s Jonathan Wheatley sent to race director Michael Masi in the closing stages of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Sir Lewis Hamilton looked set to beat Max Verstappen to the championship, but a late crash for Nicholas Latifi brought out the Safety Car and Verstappen’s subsequent pit stop left five lapped runners between himself and the Briton.

Masi initially ruled that none of the lapped runners would be permitted their lap back but, following intense discussions with Red Bull team principal Christiaan Horner and sporting director Wheatley, he made the controversial call to permit only the five between the leaders go, leading to a dramatic final lap overtake from the Dutchman.

“Those lapped cars; you don’t need to let them go right the way around and catch up with the back of the pack. You only need to let them go, and then we’ve got a motor race on our hands,” Wheatley is revealed to have told the race director.

“Understood,” was the perhaps curious reply from the Australian.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Masi that the situation was “so not right,” with the 44-year-old responding with “it’s called a motor race.”

The FIA, now led by Mohammed ben Sulayem after Jean Todt’s departure, are “aware of this and it is part of the investigation.”

It does have to be added that these radio communications have been available to the public since December, and Brundle stresses that Masi was not being given any information by Red Bull that he was not already privy to.

“It’s not new news, and also I think you have to understand that it’s not necessarily telling Michael Masi something he didn’t already know,” he told Sky F1.

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“Let’s not assume it’s giving Masi information he didn’t already know in terms of what he could and couldn’t do in terms of the lapped pack.”

But the former McLaren driver sees a severe neglection of duties on Masi’s part, adding that the radio communications in the build-up to the chaotic final lap were “uncomfortable” and “unacceptable.”

“Of course it’s really uncomfortable, and a lot of people are unhappy: Hamilton fans, Mercedes fans,” he said.

“And you don’t even have to be a Lewis Hamilton fan to think that forever he should be an eight-time World Champion, because, for me, the really crucial regulation that wasn’t carried out was that the Safety Car should have come in at the end of the following lap.

“But we also know that unwritten rules and meetings, which shouldn’t supersede anything, were: let’s try not to have a race finish behind the Safety Car.

“[It is] hugely unacceptable. I met so many fans that were new to Formula 1 last year particularly, and fans in general, that were hugely upset by what happened.”

Masi was the subject of multiple protests over the radio from both Red Bull and Mercedes last year, and new FIA executive director of single-seaters, Peter Bayer, has confirmed that he will allow only one select member of each team to discuss in-race matters with race control from 2022.

With so much going on, the Briton does not envy the many factors that were placing so much pressure on Masi.

“We cannot – and we know it’s going to change – have teams getting at the referee while he’s trying to make critical decisions with cars on the track and marshals and breakdown vehicles.

“The car was on fire at certain times. He’s trying to manage that and he’s getting lobbied left, right and centre.

“You can imagine that on the football ground or rugby ground is completely unacceptable. And that will change.”

Overall, the 62-year-old does not believe that these radio communications exacerbate what was already a controversial situation.

“It’s not pretty for Formula 1 at all, but I don’t think this audio today changes the really uncomfortable narrative of what happened.”

Mercedes rescinded their intention to appeal several days after the conclusion of the championship at the Yas Marina Circuit, and the FIA will conclude their analysis on 18 March – two days before the start of the new season in Bahrain.