Eight months later, Toto Wolff is still living with the same trauma. In an interview with Motorsport.com, the Mercedes team boss admitted that he still thinks “every day” about the last Formula 1 Grand Prix of the 2021 season, which saw Max Verstappen take the world championship crown from Lewis Hamilton in a crazy finish.
It was eight months ago, but nobody has forgotten, especially Mercedes. During the last Grand Prix of the F1 season, in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton let the title slip from his grasp against Max Verstappen, in bizarre and much commented upon circumstances. Asked to reflect on this crazy episode, Toto Wolff admitted that he still thinks about it every day.
Despite a tricky 2022 season, during which all the members of the team are racking their brains to try to get back on top, the final episode that consecrated Max Verstappen to the detriment of Lewis Hamilton is still in everyone’s head.
The 2021 season will go down in the annals of Formula 1. And for good reason, after a breathtaking battle, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen went into Abu Dhabi, the last Grand Prix of the season, tied on points.
Therefore, whoever finished ahead of the other would win the world title. And quickly, the Mercedes took the upper hand allowing the British driver to quietly drive towards an eighth title, breaking Michael Schumacher’s record.
The Dutchman could not do anything on a regular basis. But this GP will go down in sporting legend.
With five laps to go, Nicholas Latifi smashed his Williams into the wall, causing the safety car to come out. Max Verstappen, who had absolutely nothing to lose, returned to the pits to put on soft tyres in the hope that the race would be restarted.
And so it was. With one lap to go, the race directors decided to allow the lapped drivers between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen to split. This was an unprecedented decision, as the rule stipulates that all drivers must take their laps back. But in this case, the race could not have been restarted but for an unwritten agreement between Masi and the team bosses ahead of the race, that the championship must end on a green flag.
The seven-time world champion could therefore do nothing and was swallowed up by Max Verstappen with much better tyres. Despite the controversy that lasted for several weeks, the Dutchman did win his first title.
And that is always difficult to digest. In an interview with Motorsport.com, Toto Wolff admits that this episode has not been forgotten.
“I think about it every day. But I am at peace with the fact that Max won the championship, because he is a deserving champion. [About] the way things went, I think I have values related to fairness, especially sporting fairness,
“That’s what provides my fundamental love for this sport. And on that day, these values were beaten to a pulp,” says the Mercedes boss, who goes on to talk about the major changes that have resulted from this controversy.
Indeed, Mohammed Ben Sulayem was appointed president of the FIA to replace Jean Todt and one of his first decisions was to separate himself from Michael Masi, F1 race director, and therefore at the origin of the choices that created the controversy.
“I think Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the way he hires and recruits, shows me the direction to follow. Each personality has its own particularities,
“And I think the primary objective of being transparent, ensuring good governance and a good framework is what I see happening,
“Will there be obstacles on the way, because Mohammed’s organisation has to be put in place and everyone has to find their role? Yes, there will be. But I’m happy with the way things are going. They are open-minded,
“They don’t have strong opinions. For me they are transparent, honest and have integrity”, adds Toto Wolff.
A few days ago, Lewis Hamilton spoke about the pain he felt after seeing the eighth title of his career slip away.
“I don’t know if I can really put into words how I felt. I remember sitting there just in disbelief. And realising that I have to unbuckle my belts, I have to get out of this, I have to get out of this thing and I have to find the strength,
“I had no strength. And that was one of the most difficult moments, I would say, that I’ve had in a long, long time. Of course I asked myself if I wanted to continue. I’m still on a mission, I still love driving, I’m still challenged,” the Mercedes driver told Vanity Fair.