The battle for the System 1 drivers’ championship has solely gone right down to the wire 30 occasions in 72 seasons.
A real winner-takes-all head-to-head is even rarer, whereas a last-lap go by one title contender on the opposite to swing the battle of their favour is exclusive.
So now the mud has settled on Abu Dhabi 2021, the place does it stand among the many nice title deciders?
There will probably be some who take into account it sacrilegious even to pose that query and dismiss 2021 from the controversy as a consequence. However given the controversy that engulfed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is without doubt one of the components marking out essentially the most talked-about finales, if something that’s an argument in its favour moderately than towards it.
A lot relies on the definition of ‘nice’, one thing that’s subjective and is inherently within the eye of the beholder.
For devoted followers of 1 title protagonist or the opposite, the end result will probably be the dominant issue, however on this case it’s irrelevant. It’s the journey that counts. What’s extra, the calibre of the drivers and the actual fact this was a uncommon generational battle gave it an additional frisson of pleasure.
The set-up for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was exceptional. It was the climax of a season-long battle between two elite-level drivers, one a confirmed all-time nice and the opposite a great-in-the-making, with the 2 lifeless stage – save for Max Verstappen’s countback benefit. Not since 1974 had the highest two title protagonists gone into the ultimate race on equal phrases.
The depth, constructed throughout months of fight that had already spilled over into collisions – the newest solely every week earlier in Saudi Arabia – was as marked because it has been for any title decider.
Add to the combo two nice groups – in Mercedes essentially the most dominant of all-time when it comes to its run of success, and the re-emerging Crimson Bull – and you’ve got the proper elements for a title decider. Two groups, two drivers and a season of efficiency swings a technique then the opposite made for the proper foundations for the last-race shootout.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was largely easy however bookended by two main flashpoints.
The primary was Verstappen’s lap one try to go Hamilton up the within of Flip 6, with the Mercedes driver reducing the monitor.
Hamilton argued he was pressured off the monitor and the stewards had been glad, that means he retained the lead and pulled away within the first stint. That will probably be remembered by most solely as a footnote given what adopted.
Hamilton stayed in management for a lot of the race, though Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez made an important intervention by delaying him due to extending the primary stint then driving brilliantly for a lap-and-a-half.
That point-sapping impact ensured Hamilton didn’t have the mandatory time to take a pitstop beneath the mid-race VSC deployed when Antonio Giovinazzi retired, making Perez’s time-sapping defence one of many key cameos of the season.
However every part modified when Nicholas Latifi crashed – a very regular and trustworthy racing error that has since attracted unforgivable bile and stunning demise threats on social media.
The FIA actually didn’t adhere to its procedures, the timing of the lapped vehicles being ordered previous on lap 57 that means the race mustn’t have restarted on lap 58.
However there’s one other dimension to that error, as given the monitor was clear whereas the vehicles had been nonetheless on lap 56, there was a possible window to instruct the lap vehicles to go previous in time.
Then, in accordance with the regs, the race might restart on lap 58 and the identical remaining lap might have performed out completely legitimately – particularly if all of the lapped vehicles had been let previous.
That’s clearly a hypothetical, nevertheless it underlines that the issue with what occurred in Abu Dhabi was procedural moderately than essentially the end result.
The FIA has but to supply an satisfactory clarification and ran roughshod over its personal guidelines, however the situation with the slower chaser getting a free pitstop and capitalising on it’s a widespread one in F1 – even when this was an unusually high-stakes manifestation of it.
That’s not a defence of the FIA, however a reminder that the unacceptable race management errors stretched past the overly-simplistic argument that the race needed to end beneath the protection automotive.
Whereas the fury of Mercedes and Hamilton is totally comprehensible, you can also’t blame Crimson Bull and Verstappen for capitalising on the chance.
Verstappen’s grip benefit was important, nevertheless it was an clever resolution to make his dive on the Flip 5 hairpin. Partly, it took Hamilton unexpectedly as he set as much as maximise his exit, nevertheless it additionally meant that the transfer didn’t need to occur at Flip 6 with the danger of a repeat of lap one. Hamilton fought effectively and drew again alongside Verstappen into Flip 9, however the battle was misplaced.
Whatever the circumstances and the uneven grip ranges, this was an unbelievable means for the championship to be resolved. Verstappen followers cheered, Hamilton followers had been indignant however the neutrals had been left amazed by the way it all performed out.
That’s one of many defining traits of an important title decider. Realistically, both driver would have been a worthy champion and whereas Verstappen lucked in on the day – capitalising on that fortune brilliantly – this was a championship determined over 22 race weekends.
Abu Dhabi 2021 will probably be talked about when it comes to the controversy, which is hardly essentially the most pure of causes. However that debate is a bit more advanced than many current it as – reflecting poorly on race management and the willpower to make sure a grandstand end however falling wanting the deliberate try to swing the championship towards Hamilton that some make it out to be.
In our podcast episode delving into the controversy we mentioned at size why it mirrored so badly on the FIA and is about way over merely the future of the world championship.
That last-lap battle may even be remembered as a result of it was unprecedented and would possibly very effectively not occur once more. And on the subject of essentially the most celebrated and mentioned title deciders, it’s those with the late drama and controversy which are lodged within the reminiscence.
Due to that controversy, it’s up there with Adelaide 1994 or Jerez 1997, combining that with the late drama of a Brazil 2008. That finale will all the time stand in my thoughts as the best title decider merely due to the character of the late drama – one of many different two events when the future of the title swung on the final lap, the opposite being 1964.
Adelaide 1986 additionally stands out as nice decider due to the spectacle of Nigel Mansell’s high-speed tyre failure and underdog Alain Prost grabbing the title.
It’s these tales that mark out the good deciders, even when they’re typically misrepresented – one thing that’s the case with Jack Brabham pushing his out-of-fuel Cooper throughout the road at Sebring in 1959.
It confirmed admirable willpower and power however, really, didn’t make any distinction as to whether he gained the title or not – even when he couldn’t have been positive of that on the time.
For a lot of, Abu Dhabi 2021 will probably be a sore level in perpetuity and the FIA should show that its course of of research and enhancements that follows is taken significantly and is significant. However simply because the ends don’t justify the means, that doesn’t imply that it will probably’t be thought-about an important title decider.
In spite of everything, at its coronary heart, sport is combative and probably divisive. What’s abundantly clear is that this title decider won’t ever, ever be forgotten and produced one of the crucial astonishing climaxes in grand prix historical past.
If it was simply controversy, that wouldn’t be sufficient, however there was extra to what occurred and, as such, it is going to be argued about for so long as motorsport issues.