The “stupid” ending to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will deter some Formula 1 fans from watching another grand prix, former F1 racer Stefan Johansson has said.
Sir Lewis Hamilton was beaten to the title by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in 2021 following a highly controversial late decision by race director Michael Masi to only allow a limited number of lapped runners to clear the Safety Car ahead of the final lap.
Many have taken the cynical perspective that this was done in order to manufacture an entertaining finish between the two title protagonists, as the unique Safety Car restart allowed the Dutchman to pass the seven-time champion on the last lap to claim his maiden F1 championship.
It led Hamilton to claim the race result was “manipulated,” while Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Masi that the events of the closing stages were “so not right.”
There is even a petition to overturn the result and award the championship to Hamilton, with rumours now floating that the Briton may be about to leave the sport.
In any case, Johansson is disappointed that the culmination of the title battle was littered with so much controversy.
“I just wish the season could have been decided in a fair way,” he wrote in his blog.
He labelled the end of the race in Abu Dhabi “stupid” and fears that many viewers may now be deterred from watching another grand prix.
“I’ve had messages from so many people within the racing industry and they mostly say that was the last F1 race they will ever watch.
“We all love the sport but it’s hard to get enthusiastic when stupid things like that keep happening.”
However, the Swede recognises that casual fans may still be engrossed, but avid lovers of the sport and those more heavily involved with F1 are the ones telling him they want to walk away.
“There is a definite split though. The people watching that are more fans than actually in the business, they all loved the way it finished, and all the people that are in the business are really upset and are all talking about tuning out and not bother watching anymore,” he explained.
The 65-year-old hopes that Liberty Media will strike a compromise between fair competition and a lust for entertainment.
“From the point of view of Liberty, I think it’s quite clear who the winner of the two will be. I just hope there will be a sensible balance going forward,” he added.
He takes nothing away from Verstappen though, and maintains that he saw his championship victory coming.
Honda partnered with Red Bull in 2019, having stopped supplying McLaren at the end of 2017, and spent a year powering Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso – now named Scuderia AlphaTauri – before powering the main outfit.
Upon this switch, Johansson believed that a return to the front for the four-time Constructors’ Champions was inevitable at some stage.
“When McLaren and Honda went separate ways and Honda went to Red Bull, I said Max, Honda and Red Bull would dominate sooner or later… maybe for the next 10 years,” he said.
“I think we are seeing the start of that now.”
Despite the controversy, Johansson takes nothing away from Verstappen’s success, and is impressed that the 24-year-old was able to win the championship at his first realistic opportunity.
“Max won the championship at his first real attempt, where he had a car that gave him the opportunity to win.”
The former Ferrari and McLaren driver believes that this may now be the start of a special period for Verstappen and his Red Bull team:
“That should worry the rest of the field as he will only get better and better and he’s got at least a 10-year runway to get it done.
“I believe this is the start of a new era.”
Much of the controversy late on stemmed from radio pressure from Mercedes and Red Bull on Masi, and Formula 1’s technical director Ross Brawn has said that in-race contact between teams and the race director will be banned in 2022.