Nineteen months have elapsed since Lewis Hamilton’s heart-wrenching defeat in the 2021 championship, yet Toto Wolff’s frustration remains palpable as he insists the title was “unjustly seized”, making its acceptance a bitter pill to swallow.
Back in 2021, the Formula One world witnessed an epic showdown as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton fiercely locked horns with Max Verstappen in a relentless battle for the World Championship. The two giants exchanged blows, trading 1-2 finishes and metaphorical blows as they fought tooth and nail for supremacy.
As the season’s climax loomed large in Abu Dhabi, the points were meticulously balanced, with both Hamilton and Verstappen locked at an equal 369.5 points each. It was a high-stakes showdown where only one would ascend to glory – and Verstappen seized that honour.
Intrigue entered the fray as FIA race director Michael Masi intervened during the final laps after a late-race incident involving Nicholas Latifi. Masi orchestrated a last-gasp shoot-out by permitting only the cars sandwiched between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves. This strategic maneuver allowed Verstappen, equipped with fresher tires, to launch a decisive attack on Hamilton’s race lead, which he accomplished with a blistering move at Turn 4.
In the wake of Verstappen’s victory, Hamilton’s anguished radio message reverberated across the racing world: “This has been manipulated.”
The narrative turned sombre as Hamilton’s quest for an eighth historic World Championship was shattered.
Wolff: Stolen title
Verstappen clinched both the race and the title, casting an air of uncertainty over Hamilton’s future on the grid. Despite his return in 2022, the revamped regulations dulled Mercedes’ dominance, signaling the ascent of the Verstappen era.
Wolff’s heart still aches for the agony of 2021. Speaking on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs, he declared, “In this race, both drivers started with an equal footing, where the finest driver and machine triumph. However, on that fateful day, the true champion was unjustly denied victory.”
Wolff candidly admitted, “And it’s still something that stings, not of losing it because I would have been able [and] all of us would have been able to lose that race fair and square and admit that. But it was stolen and that made it difficult.”
FIA tries to keep Mercedes calm
The FIA’s changing of the guard, with a new president assuming office around that period, came with its own share of controversy. The governing body ultimately conceded an error had occurred, branding it “human error.” However, this acknowledgment couldn’t restore the championship to its rightful owner or bestow Lewis with an eighth world title. It was, however, an olive branch gesture to temper an angry giant partnered to the sport.
Wolff’s sentiments resonate with Hamilton, as both share an uncanny ability to compartmentalize emotions. Reflecting on the incident, Wolff acknowledged, “Such adversities pale in comparison to the world’s greater tribulations.”
Hamilton ‘bereft of sympathy’
Since 2021, Hamilton has yet to secure a race victory, with Mercedes grappling to match the prowess of Red Bull in Formula One’s new era of ground-effect aerodynamics.
“Intriguingly,” Wolff mused, “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,” Wolff added.
As the Formula One landscape continues to evolve, the echoes of 2021’s dramatic finale still reverberate, a reminder of a title that slipped through Hamilton’s fingers under controversial circumstances.
Yuki worked SO hard for that final point! 🥵
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 31, 2023