Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has opened up on the moment that momentarily made him “fall out of love” with Formula 1 at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 2021 season finale was truly unbelievable for a magnitude of reasons, other than Michael Masi’s handling of the race.
To think that Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen entered the finale level on points is still mind-boggling, given that there were 22 races in 2021.
The pair, of course, also started on the front row for the race, with Verstappen having snatched pole.
It was Hamilton, though, who led into Turn One, with the seven-time World Champion having gone on to lead the vast majority of the race, albeit with an excursion across Turn Seven.
It was looking for all the world that Hamilton was going to become an eight-time World Champion, before Masi made a decision “so drastic” that it resulted in an “unbelievable” outcome.
Following the late Safety Car for Nicholas Latifi’s crash, Masi opted to go against the rules of the sport, and only allowed the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to un-lap themselves.
In doing so, Masi ‘manipulated’ the result, given that he also then brought the Safety Car in moments before the final lap.
Had he followed the rules, then either every car would’ve been told to un-lap themselves or no one would’ve been allowed to un-lap themselves.
By allowing some, but not all, to do so, he breached a rule of the sport.
Should cars be allowed to un-lap themselves, then the Safety Car is also supposed to conduct an additional lap, which would’ve been the final lap.
Had this happened then Hamilton would’ve been crowned Champion, instead of Verstappen, who overtook the 38-year-old on the final lap.
Understandably, Mercedes were livid with Masi, who was later investigated by the FIA.
It was determined that Masi had made a ‘human error’, resulting in him being replaced as race director for 2022.
Whilst Wolff admits the outcome of that race is “done and dusted”, he revealed that he still “thinks about it a lot”, with the race having turned into a dark day for Formula 1.
“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, who has since been replaced] 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.”