Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has admitted that he continues to think about the ‘manipulated’ 2021 season finale, with the Austrian having lost his “love” for Formula 1 momentarily on that dark day in Abu Dhabi.
The 2021 season was arguably one of the best, if not the best, of the 21st century, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen having fought each other in thrilling fashion all year long.
Verstappen and Hamilton both deserved the title that year; however, that can’t happen in Formula 1.
The two drivers entered the season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit level on points, knowing that whoever finished above the other would be the 2021 World Drivers’ Champion.
After starting first and second, Hamilton overtook the Dutchman on the first lap, albeit controversially after cutting Turn Seven.
The FIA deemed that the 38-year-old didn’t need to give the place back due to being forced off the track, with Hamilton instead having been told to drop back slightly.
Hamilton went on to dominate the race and led the vast majority of it, until a crash for Nicholas Latifi changed everything.
With just a handful of laps remaining, Latifi crashed in the final sector, resulting in a Safety Car.
This saw the entire field bunch-up, with Hamilton having remained on incredibly old Hard tyres, whereas Verstappen pitted for Softs.
As the laps past behind the Safety Car, it looked increasingly likely that the season would end behind it, before Masi decided to take matters into his own hands.
As the penultimate lap was being carried out, it was announced that no cars would be allowed to un-lap themselves, with the race set to resume on the final lap.
With five-lapped cars having been between Hamilton in first and Verstappen in second, Red Bull were ferocious.
Their anger quickly changed to delight, as it was then announced seconds later that only the five cars between the title rivals would be allowed to un-lap themselves, but no one else.
In doing so, Masi broke the rules by not allowing every driver throughout the field to un-lap themselves, with some drivers outside the top 10 having lost the chance to fight for points as a result.
The race was then suddenly restarted moments before the final lap began, with the last lap of the season having been the moment when racing resumed.
By doing this, though, Masi broke another rule.
Should cars be allowed to un-lap themselves, then the Safety Car is supposed to do one more lap, which in this situation would’ve been the last lap of the season.
Verstappen, of course, overtook Hamilton on the final lap to become World Champion, a Championship that will unfortunately always be remembered in a negative light.
None of what happened was Verstappen’s or Hamilton’s fault, with both drivers having given their all throughout the season.
The full blame was sadly on Masi, who ultimately decided to put on an entertaining last lap, rather than one which followed the rules.
Mercedes were understandably furious, with the FIA having carried out an investigation into the race as a result.
The governing body determined that Masi had made a ‘human error’, which ultimately saw him removed from the position of race director.
Wolff will never forget that day in Abu Dhabi, with Masi’s decisions having been “incomprehensible”.
“It was tough after Abu Dhabi (the final race of the 2021 season),” Wolff told The Times.
“I have always liked the principle that the stopwatch never lies; the team that wins is the one that deserves to be the champion.
“But this was different. At the end of the race, an individual (Michael Masi) took decisions that were not reflected anywhere in the rule book and were so drastic that they made the outcome unbelievable. That is a moment when you fall out of love with the sport . . . The principle of fairness was breached.
“The FIA took the guy out of the job because it was a human error. But it’s done and dusted now. I still think about it a lot, but not with anger; it is just incomprehensible how it came about.”