Former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean sympathises with the Sir Lewis Hamilton for the way he lost the title in 2021, but insists that race director Michael Masi made the right call.
With time constraints threatening to see the race end behind the Safety Car, Masi decided only to allow five lapped runners to gain their lap back ahead of the final lap.
These were the five between race leader Hamilton and Red Bull’s second-placed Max Verstappen, and it facilitated a last lap move from the Dutchman to seal his maiden world title, costing the 37-year-old his record eighth.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was quickly on the radio to tell Masi that the race was “so not right,” while Hamilton claimed the season finale had been “manipulated” by race control.
They have both since congratulated Verstappen, who took 10 victories and 18 podiums in 2021, but Mercedes have promised to hold the FIA “accountable” for an investigation they are now carrying out into the closing events at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Perry McCarthy has recently labelled the end of the race “a joke,” while Labour Peer Lord Peter Hain had claimed that the championship ending was “rigged” by race control.
Grosjean reckons that the Australian made the best decision in the circumstances, but admits it was hard on Hamilton.
“There’s a few ways of seeing it, it would have been very strange to not unlap those cars and have Lewis first and then Max four [five] cars behind over one lap for the World Championship,” he told reporters during an Indy 500 press conference.
“On the other hand, for Lewis it was definitely not a great call, but as a TV fan, as a spectator, for the sport, I think Michael Masi make the right decision.”
The Frenchman believes it would have been a shame for the title protagonists not to battle it out on the final lap having entered the final round of the year level on points.
“I don’t think the championship would have been nice to finish under the Safety Car,” he affirmed.
“It would not have been nice to finish with the guys being separated on track being first and second separated by a few cars.
“I was more Lewis’ side than Max’s, so I was kind of, ‘Oh, Lewis lost it over the last part of the season; Max did the same, made an incredible job. But I thought it was so cool to get those two guys going together.”
The former Renault, Lotus and Haas driver maintains that Verstappen won the championship over the whole year, not just one lap.
“I think the wrong conception is to think that the World Championship went on one lap,” he stated.
“It was 22 grands prix, and if you look at the full season, you know Max had the puncture in Baku, Valtteri Bottas crashed into Verstappen in Hungary, there was the Silverstone race [during which a collision with Hamilton sent Verstappen out of the race].”
A popular perception has been that the 24-year-old was more deserving of the title based on the whole year, whereas the Mercedes driver earned victory in the the title decider.
Grosjean agrees with this, saying: “I think at the end, if we look at how many points were lost by Verstappen, not necessarily by his fault, he was the one that deserved more the championship.
“On the Abu Dhabi race, Lewis deserved more the championship. He got unlucky over the last lap. But as a race fan, I loved that last lap, and it was super exciting to watch.”
The 35-year-old achieved 10 podiums between 2012 and 2013 with Lotus, the last of which arrived at the Belgian Grand Prix six-and-a-half years ago.