Bernie Ecclestone, the former chief executive officer of Formula 1, has said that Mercedes could have guaranteed Sir Lewis Hamilton victory in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The seven-time world champion overtook Verstappen on the opening lap and looked comfortable throughout the grand prix, but a late Safety Car turned the race on its head.
When the Safety Car was deployed, Red Bull took the opportunity to pit Verstappen for a set of fresh soft-compound tyres.
Mercedes, however, left Hamilton out, as they risked giving up track position if they pitted him.
And, following a controversial decision by race director Michael Masi to only let the five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen un-lap themselves, the Dutchman was able to overtake the Mercedes driver on the final lap of the season finale to win the 2021 F1 crown.
Ecclestone believes that Mercedes could have avoided this by telling Bottas to stop his car on the track to ensure the race ended behind the Safety Car, with no chance for Verstappen to overtake Hamilton.
“Pretty clever. I thought about it too, and there would have been some ideal places for the Safety Car to stay outside,” Ecclestone said in an interview with the Blick newspaper when asked if he believes Mercedes should have told Bottas to stop his car to prevent the Abu Dhabi GP from restarting.
Continuing, the former F1 supremo conceded that “many would have been upset” if Mercedes did this, “but nobody would have had the current finale in the back of their minds without restarting the race.”
Ecclestone also said he believes Hamilton won’t be returning to Formula 1 in 2022, following the controversial season-finale and heartbreak of missing out on his record-breaking eighth world championship.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think he’s coming back. His disappointment is too big.
“And you can somehow understand it. Now would be [a good] time to tackle his dream of becoming a fashion entrepreneur with seven F1 titles like Michael Schumacher.”