The controversial end to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was “not right”, but the race was not rigged to favour Max Verstappen over Sir Lewis Hamilton.
That’s according to Mercedes reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who says the rules regarding the Safety Car procedure were not followed in the season finale.
Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen headed into the final round of the 2021 Formula 1 season level on points, with the Dutchman ahead on 10 race wins to Hamilton’s nine.
Verstappen took pole for the race, before being passed by the fast-starting 36-year-old on the opening lap.
Contact at Turn 6 made for a controversial first lap, but the tension quickly died down, and it looked as though Hamilton was destined for victory.
However, when Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed at Turn 14, the Safety Car was deployed, prompting a pit stop from Verstappen.
Mercedes opted not to box Hamilton because they feared a loss of track position would be wholly detrimental were the race not to resume.
Race director Michael Masi initially ruled that no lapped cars would be allowed to un-lap themselves, before making the unprecedented decision to only clear the five lapped runners between Hamilton and Verstappen.
The Dutchman would then pass the Mercedes driver on the final lap to claim the championship.
Mercedes protested the result, but this was denied. They would then later withdraw their intention to appeal and publicly congratulated Verstappen on his triumph over Hamilton.
Mercedes EQ Formula E driver Vandoorne believes that the end of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix violated Formula 1’s “clear rules” regarding Safety Car restarts.
“The way the crown was decided is not right. There are clear rules for the Safety Car procedure and they were not followed,” said Vandoorne.
The Belgian thinks that his team did everything right, and that following the decision by Masi, it was easy pickings for Verstappen on the final lap.
“Lewis had done a great race and so did the team through their strategy. Everything was perfect and then there is this decision, it changes the result of the race and therefore the championship. It’s very hard to take,” he said.
“And then on the last lap, it was clear nothing was in Hamilton’s favour – he had old tyres against Verstappen with new tyres. Lewis didn’t stand a chance and in my opinion it wasn’t really a race at the end.”
Hamilton has been largely silent since the season finale, barring an interview immediately after the race.
Speaking on this, Vandoorne said he understands Hamilton’s heartbreak.
“Lewis didn’t post anything on social media after the race and I think he must have felt very bad that he lost this way on the last lap, when he had everything under control and didn’t put a foot wrong during the race,” he explained.
Rumours have flown that the seven-time champion may be looking to depart the sport due to what many feel was an injustice, but the 29-year-old moved to dismiss this suggestion.
“He will definitely have a hard time accepting what happened in Abu Dhabi, but he is still so keen to push himself and do better that I am sure he will use all these events as motivation to come back even stronger.”
Hamilton said on the radio during the final lap that the race had been “manipulated”, but Vandoorne doesn’t agree with this.
“I don’t think the result was manipulated. I just think Race Control didn’t want the grand prix to end under the Safety Car for the final decision of a championship like this, but there are rules to follow after a Safety Car,” he added.
Although he sees the lapped car fiasco as dreadfully unfair, Vandoorne recognises that Verstappen won the title over a whole season, not just one lap.
“They let the lapped cars through, but they should have done an extra lap and they didn’t do it. So, yes, in terms of that scenario I think Lewis was robbed, but the title was not lost on the last lap of the last race.”
The Belgian, who has won two races in Formula E, cited Mercedes’ below-par performance in the early stages of the season.
“Let’s remember at the beginning of the season Mercedes were under-performing and lacking pace against Red Bull, who took advantage of that to open up a gap.”
Amid the rumours of Hamilton’s departure from the sport, a number of members of the F1 paddock – Verstappen included – have stated that they would like him to stay.