A year and a half after Lewis Hamilton’s heartbreaking title loss in 2021, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes Team Principal, still grapples with the sting of that pivotal moment.
In a recent interview, he described the championship as having been “stolen,” making acceptance of the outcome an enduring challenge.
Two years ago, the Formula 1 world was witness to a gripping battle between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the coveted World Championship title.
The duo engaged in fierce on-track duels, exchanging 1-2 finishes and challenging each other wheel-to-wheel for supremacy.
As the season reached its climax in Abu Dhabi, both contenders were deadlocked at 369.5 points each. The final race became a winner-takes-all showdown, with the tension palpable.
Despite Hamilton maintaining a substantial lead during most of the race, the course of events took an unexpected turn.
FIA race director Michael Masi’s decision to set up a last-lap shoot-out, prompted by a late-race incident involving Nicholas Latifi, allowed only select cars to unlap themselves.
Verstappen, equipped with fresher tires, capitalised on this opportunity to surge past Hamilton and secure victory.
Amidst the whirlwind of emotions, Hamilton’s anguished radio message, “This has been manipulated,” underscored the controversy surrounding the outcome.
Verstappen clinched the race victory and the championship, altering the trajectory of the Formula 1 landscape and casting doubt on Hamilton’s future participation.
Toto Wolff, still burdened by the events of that fateful day, shared his sentiments. Speaking on BBC Radio’s “Desert Island Discs,” he stated, “Both drivers started with equal points into this race. Best man and best machine wins, and the best man that day didn’t win.”
The Mercedes team principal lamented the sense of having victory taken away by external factors, labelling it as a painful aspect of the experience.
Acknowledging the broader context, Wolff highlighted the transitional phase at the FIA, where a new president assumed office, acknowledging that an error had occurred, but the outcome remained unchanged.
Despite the unresolved nature of the incident, Wolff commended both Hamilton and himself for their ability to compartmentalise and move forward.
Wolff’s reflections extended to the present Formula 1 landscape, where Mercedes’ dominance has shifted due to the emergence of the Verstappen era, fuelled by the new ground effect aerodynamic regulations.
He noted, “The interesting phenomenon is that we as a team and Lewis as a driver, we didn’t have a lot of credit and sympathy because we won so many times.”