Mercedes Have Only themselves to Blame
I have just finished watching the last race of the Formula 1 Season in Abu Dhabi. Those who know me will also know that Formula 1 is one of my passions, and I will never miss a televised race if at all possible. My favourite F1 Racer is Nigel Mansell – who could ever forget his bravery and commitment and his hugely exciting battles on the track with other “Greats” like Ayrton Senna?
Contrast him with Michael Schumacher – a seven times World Champion – but not a “sportsman” in any sense of the word, winning at least two of his world titles by foul means.
I mention Schumacher because there was a real danger that one of the two protagonists in this year’s championship would resort to – let’s be polite – unfair methods to win the title.
Mercedes and Red Bull – the two Teams in Contention
The F1 Race teams are run by two individuals – Toto Wolf for Mercedes and Christian Horner for Red Bull.
I happen to like Christian Horner who is obviously passionate about his job, and backs this up with excellent team management – especially when team strategy is required. In many of the Races this season, the Red Bull race pitstop strategy has been exemplary – they have almost always made the right decisions.
Contrast this with Mercedes, where in several races in 2021, their pitstop strategy has been – to put it politely – questionable, and in my view have undoubtedly cost their lead driver his chance for an 8th World Title. There was no more glaringly obvious cock-up than in today’s final “winner takes all” Race.
The Contestants – Hamilton and Verstappen
I have huge respect for Lewis Hamilton as a Racing Driver and deserved World Champion, his seven World Titles matching Michael Schumacher. Although I feel that his personal opinions about life outside F1 would be better kept to himself, there is no doubting his racecraft and outstanding ability. Above all, he has a deserved reputation as a “fair racer”. He is in my mind the best F1 Driver out there, notwithstanding the result of today’s final race of the sesaon.
At this point I should make it clear that I wanted Hamilton to win.
Max Verstappen is another hugely talented driver, for whom I have great respect. However, his “will to win” is borderline kamikaze – and he will not back out of a confrontation which will result in an accident, even when he is the driver who should clearly give way – as most reasonable drivers who value life and safety would do. This is why I mentioned Schumacher earlier.
Abu Dhabi Race 2021
The Final Race of the season was as exciting and absorbing as one could have hoped for, but for the wrong reasons, as I will explain.
Red Bull’s Verstappen had put together an awesomely good qualifying lap (possibly with some help with slip streaming his team mate Sergio Perez) and started on Pole, with Hamilton in second.
Hamilton made a blistering start, overtook Verstappen into the first corner, and proceeded to extend his lead, as Verstappen could not make any impression. After some 20 laps or so, Verstappen pitted for fresh tryes, closely followed by Hamilton (Mercedes got that right – all they had to do was mirror the Red Bull pitstop strategy) and the race positions were then (1) Sergio Perez (2) Hamilton (3) Verstappen – at this point, Perez had not pitted.
The Value of a Good Team-Mate
As Hamilton inexorably closed on Perez, we were then treated to a fierce defence of the lead by Perez – some might say that the defence bordered on “dangerous driving” – but after holding Hamilton back for some laps, which cost Hamilton seven seconds of his lead over third placed Verstappen – the inevitable overtake was accomplished and Hamilton re-took the lead.
I have speculated many times on the value of a determined team-mate, for example Alonso‘s defending against Hamilton in an earlier race which allowed his Alpine team-mate Ocon to win, and possibly – in retrospect – denied Hamilton the World Champonship. Valtierri Bottas – Hamilton’s team-mate – has failed time and time again to put up any resistance in similar scenarios.
Having passed Perez, Hamilton’s lead over Verstappen had reduced to under 2 seconds, and both drivers were now on hard tyres which could last until the end of the race. However, Hamilton started to pull away again, the lead extending lap by lap until it was some 8 seconds, a comfortable gap to defend. At this point, with only six or seven laps remaining, barring some major track incident, the race was Hamiltons.
Unfortunately for Hamilton and Mercedes, the young and relatively inexperienced Williams driver Latifi lost control of his car and slammed into the barriers, with about six laps remaining. This meant a Safety Car, and Red Bull took full advantage by pitting Verstappen almost immediately for a fresh set of soft tyres (the fastest compound)
WHY ON EARTH DID MERCEDES NOT FOLLOW SUIT ???????
This was where Hamilton lost the Race and the Title – inexplicable behaviour from the Mercedes team, which was later compounded by the Race Director, Micahel Masi, in an inexplicable “about turn”, allowing lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car, which meant that Verstappen regained second place immediately behind Hamilton, on brand new fresh tyres.
When the Safety Car pitted and the race restarted with only one lap remaining, there was only going to be one winner.
If I was Lewis Hamilton, I would be extremely unhappy with the Mercedes Team, whatever diplomatic language we may hear from him. A lack of strategic common sense from his support team has definitely cost him an 8th Formula 1 World Title.
Analysis – Final Pit Stop
There was only one option open to Red Bull when the Safety Car was deployed: Verstappen was never going to catch Hamilton if he stayed out with the Hard Compound Tyre. Bringing him in as soon as possible and hoping for an opportunity was a “no brainer”
The situation was admittedly more complex for Mercedes. Their driver had performed brilliantly, done all he could be expected to do, and the only scenarios which could prevent Hamilton from winning were either a car problem (maybe tyre related) or a Safety Car.
Earlier in the race, Hamilton’s engineer was on the radio asking which tyre he would prefer in the event of a Safety Car – Hard or Medium – which meant that they were at least alive to that possibility. This should have meant that strategies had been prepared.
However, once the Red Bull had pitted for new tyres, the Mercedes team seemed unsure what to do: there was TV footage of Mercedes mechanics appearing to be ready for Hamilton pitting, only to then return to the garage – this happened a couple of times while the race continued slowly behind the Safety Car. Presumably they then thought that it was too late to pit, and maybe the Safety Car would remain out for the rest of the race. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
If Verstappen had stayed out on track, and not pitted, the right decision would have been to leave Hamilton there too. However, the reason these guys at Mercedes are paid the “big bucks” is because they should be able to predict factors such as the actions of the Red Bull Team, the likely delay necessary to clear the track (the position of the crashed car) and the number of laps remaining in the race when and if the Safety Car was no longer deployed.
The correct decision would have been to bring Hamilton in for fresh tyres as soon as possible, and even before Verstappen, if the Pit Lane entrance had been available. Even if he then dropped a couple of places to Verstappen, he would still have had a fighting chance for the win. Once that window of opportunity had closed, they could only hope that the race would finish under the safety car.
Conclusion – An Unfair Result compounded by Inconsistency
The outcome of the final race of the 2021 season and the winner of the Formula 1 World Title was decided by a back marker crashing out of the race. Red Bull and Verstappen should be extremely grateful to Nick Latifi.
And Micahel Masi must go – there is no place for inconsistency in Formula 1 especially from the Race Director, He has lost the confidence of the Teams and many of the drivers.
Please feel free to add any Comment – see below. Did you watch the race?