McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said he is not of the opinion that race director Michael Masi deliberately cost Sir Lewis Hamilton the 2021 championship and threw it Max Verstappen’s way.
Hamilton and Verstappen entered the final round the season in Abu Dhabi level on points following an intense year of racing, and the Briton spent much of the season finale in the lead.
He looked set to comfortably seal his record eighth world title, but a late crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi tossed everything into the air.
Verstappen’s subsequent Safety Car pit-stop left five runners between the two leaders going into the closing laps and, due to how little time remained to finish the race under green flag running, Masi decided that no lapped cars would get their lap back.
Bizarrely though, four minutes later, the Australian opted to allow only the five between the title protagonists to go through, leaving the others in their position.
Verstappen would then snatch the victory on the final lap, leaving Mercedes seething.
They protested the stewarding decisions after the race, but saw this denied.
The Silver Arrows subsequently lodged their intention to appeal this, but later said they wouldn’t be pressing ahead with it.
Instead, Mercedes said they would be holding the FIA accountable for an investigation they are conducting into the controversial manner in which the 2021 Drivers’ Championship was decided.
Questions have now been raised as to whether the 37-year-old will want to return in 2022; Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff recently stated that he and Hamilton are “disillusioned” with Formula 1 at present.
Sky Sports pundit Johnny Herbert labelled the closing events at the Yas Marina Circuit as a “twist” of the regulations, while Labour Peer Lord Peter Hain said that the race was “rigged.”
Brown, however, is not on board with the idea that any corruption was involved.
“I don’t think this was a malicious decision. So for those that might have a view that the sport’s corrupt etcetera, I don’t agree with that,” the McLaren CEO told reporters in a media briefing.
Brown agrees that the end in Abu Dhabi might have been handled differently, but continued to stress that there was no bias from race control towards Verstappen.
“Do I think potentially a different decision could have been made? Yes, probably. I want to wait to see what the FIA comes out with, but I don’t think it was malicious, and therefore I don’t think it’s corrupt.”
The American added that controversial decisions are a feature of professional sport, and that Mercedes will eventually put this latest episode of F1 drama behind them.
“We’ve all seen in sport before referees make decisions that people disagree with. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong,” he explained.
“It gets pretty exciting and then the season starts and it soon becomes a thing that you never forget about, but it’s a thing of the past.
“With all controversies in sport, in time, as soon as the next season starts the wounds start to heal.”
The 50-year-old reckons that new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem’s team must provide some answers and take action to prevent a repeat of the controversy.
“I do think the FIA need to come out with a, ‘Here’s what happened, here’s why we think it happened, here’s what was right, here’s what was wrong’, whatever they’re going to come out with in the report, and then show they’ve taken action to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Brown, whose team ended the 2021 Constructors’ Championship fourth, has previously expressed his opinion that F1 should employ full-time stewards.
The FIA will complete their report on 18 March – the weekend of the opening race of the 2022 season in Bahrain.