1996 world champion Damon Hill laments the manner in which the championship was decided last season, acknowledging many fans’ believe that Sir Lewis Hamilton was “robbed” of the title.
Hamilton had been leading for much of the race at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which he and Max Verstappen were battling it out for victory in the last race of the year.
Despite the efforts of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, it looked for all the world as though the seven-time world champion would cruise home to seal his record eighth, but a crash for Nicholas Latifi turned the race on its head.
Race director Michael Masi deployed the Safety Car and, having initially ruled that no lapped runners would be allowed through, a curious conversation with Jonathan Wheatley and Christian Horner preceded a call to allow only the five lapped cars between the leaders traverse the Safety Car.
The 24-year-old would take the opportunity to pass the Briton on the final lap of the race and clinch his first championship.
The general perception is that this was done in the interests of entertainment, although the situation was made significantly more precarious when a brake caught fire on the Williams, which Hill’s Sky colleague Karun Chandhok has recently suggested caused an unexpected elongation of the Safety Car period.
Hill believes that the ending should have been handled with a little more integrity after several fans’ lust for unadulterated drama was more than fulfilled.
“We could just broadcast random entertainment, but we don’t want to be doing that,” he told Express Sport.
“We don’t want the sport to only pander to adrenaline, there has to be some integrity and we could have done better to serve those people.
“The entertainment value was given precedence over what would be right and fair [in 2021], and it was happening consistently throughout the year.”
Masi has since been removed from his role by new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, and the 44-year-old has been replaced by a combination of Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, who were testing out various systems during pre-season running in Barcelona and Bahrain.
The Briton does not pin the blame solely on Masi though, affirming that multiple people contributed to the controversial decision.
“I don’t blame one person. If my theory is correct, everyone wanted to spice the show up as much as they could,” he explained.
“As much as it was a thrilling climax to the season and it was brilliant from many angles, we were all diminished a little bit.”
Verstappen claimed 10 race wins last year en route to his maiden world title and, while he may have enjoyed a remarkable season, the former Williams driver entertains the perspective that his compatriot was “robbed.”
“I think the sport was diminished, Max’s championship was diminished slightly and there are some that believe Lewis was robbed of a title that was rightfully his,” he added.
Verstappen is set to begin the defence of his championship at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as the 2022 season gets underway.