Former Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has rubbished claims that the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was “manipulated”, insisting that Max Verstappen beat Sir Lewis Hamilton “fair and square.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team were enraged when race director Michael Masi appeared to contradict Safety Car protocol, facilitating a Verstappen victory.
The pair entered the final round level on points following a gargantuan battle last year, and the Briton found himself leading his young rival convincingly late on.
However, a late crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi brought out the fateful Safety Car, allowing Verstappen to pit for fresh tyres.
This left five lapped cars between the leaders and, with only a handful of laps remaining, there did not appear to be sufficient laps remaining to allow all lapped cars through to allow for green flag racing.
But, Masi decided to allow only the five cars between the title protagonists through with one lap remaining, leading to Verstappen’s title-winning pass.
Mercedes protested the race result, but saw this denied by the stewards – and they later withdrew their intention to appeal this.
Many have suggested that Hamilton was “robbed” of his record-breaking eighth championship, and there is even a petition to strip Verstappen of the championship and instead award it to the 37-year-old.
Ecclestone, whose reign in charge of the sport ended after the 2016 season, rejects this notion, labelling it “nonsense.”
“About being robbed, it’s complete and utter nonsense,” he told Sky Sports.
He cited the first lap incident at Turn 6, in which Verstappen attempted a diving move down the inside of the Mercedes driver, making slight contact with his rival.
Hamilton then left the circuit, rejoining on the exit of Turn 7 in front of the 24-year-old.
The seven-time champion was not awarded a penalty for this.
“If you want to think about it carefully, on the first lap of that race he [Hamilton] went off the circuit and came back on again and Verstappen stayed on the circuit and did absolutely nothing wrong,” Ecclestone explained.
“Lewis wasn’t punished at all for this so he shouldn’t be complaining too much.
“These things happen all the time in sports. We shouldn’t blame the race director, he did exactly what was the right thing to do.”
Hamilton said on the radio during the chaotic final lap that the race had been “manipulated” by race control, but Ecclestone believes an F1 race is far too complex to manufacture a result.
“I’d like to know who has been manipulating and is clever enough to do that.
“This was just a set of circumstances that happened and it ended an incredible world championship that I’m sure everyone was more than happy to watch.”
Mercedes lodged an intention to appeal following the dismissal of their protest, but rescinded this on the morning of the FIA Prize-Giving Gala.
The 91-year-old is glad they did not go ahead with their appeal, saying it would have made Mercedes look like “bad losers.”
“I think an appeal would be the worst thing they could do,” the former F1 supremo said. “It would look like they are bad losers.
“It was very level. Two guys racing each other and one was quicker than the other one. It’s a lot of nonsense.”
The stewards deliberated for a lengthy period over Mercedes’ protest, and Ecclestone was as such left wondering what Masi could have done so erroneously that a conclusion was not immediately reached.
“It took them four hours to decide if they had a case or not so it couldn’t have been that clear.
“Max won it fair and square which is a good thing to do. People are just as happy to see a new face win it.”
Edging towards a slightly biased perspective, Ecclestone said he does not want Hamilton to beat Michael Schumacher’s record of F1 titles, having already matched him for seven in 2020.
“I personally was happy that Lewis didn’t win an eighth championship because of Michael Schumacher. I wouldn’t like to see that broken,” he admitted.
Rumours have been aplenty that Hamilton may be looking to leave the sport following the controversy in Abu Dhabi, and Ecclestone himself has previously stated that he believes it may be time for his compatriot to move on and focus on his other passions, such as music and fashion.
Should the Briton return in 2022, he will partner George Russell at Mercedes.
The 23-year-old recently joined the Silver Arrows from Williams to replace Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas.