Lewis Hamilton verbally lashed out and claimed the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had been ‘manipulated’ after being defeated at the death by rival Max Verstappen, and surrendering the championship title as a result.
In previously unheard radio audio and dashcam footage, Hamilton questioned what was going on as the race reached its gripping climax and Verstappen roared towards the chequered flag.
Verstappen won the race in the most controversial of circumstances, pipping Hamilton on the final lap after having been allowed to make up a window of time following a confusion over the rules regarding a safety car.
After the race Hamilton was gracious in defeat and offered kind words to his Dutch rival, but footage has since emerged showing that he was far less understanding on the team radio.
Lewis Hamilton verbally lashed out after being defeated at the death by rival Max Verstappen at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Hamilton could be heard shouting into his radio: ‘This has been manipulated, man.’
Hamilton’s message was not broadcast on television’s world feed but was aired on the in-house F1 TV channel, and has since gone viral on social media.
Fellow racer Lando Norris appeared to hold similar views, and admitted that the tense showdown was likely engineered for the cameras.
Following the thrilling showdown in Abu Dhabi, he told reporters: ‘It was obviously made to be a fight – it was for the TV, of course, it was for the result.
‘Whether or not it was fair is not up to me to decide.’
The highly controversial finish first began its snowball effect when Williams driver Nicholas Latifi slid off the track and hit a wall on the closing lap, leading to a safety car being required.
Christian Horner and Max Verstappen (left picture, left and right) celebrated on the podium after the Dutchman won his first ever world championship; but Damon Hill (right) believes Red Bull ‘played rough’ with ‘new rules’ to win the drivers’ title
Verstappen’s fresher tyres allowed him to dive down beyond Hamilton and then win the title
It was that safety car which turned out to be the fateful event as it closed the gap between race leader Hamilton and the chasing Verstappen.
The decision to restart the race while several cars were not allowed to unlap themselves garnered criticism and questions.
FIA rules indicate that any and all lapped cars that line up behind a safety car are allowed to overtake and un-lap themselves while the safety car is out on the track – yet this was not seen in Abu Dhabi.
But while setting up a stunning photo finish and an even better story line, race director Michael Masi invoked fury from Mercedes who lodged a protest that the race director had not properly followed the rules in relation to the safety car.
The FIA – the governing body for F1 – said it was up to Masi’s discretion how to deploy the safety car.
Michael Masi changed his mind over allowing lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the safety car ahead of the restart
But it has lead pundits and fans to question whether the decision was about creating a dramatic end to fit the high drama between Hamilton and Verstappen that has gripped F1 fans this season.
Some have suggested Masi’s decision was to create a ‘juicy storyline’ for Drive to Survive – a gripping behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary that has attracted a huge number of new fans to the sport.
After being knocked back in an initial appeal against the outcome, Mercedes are reportedly considering scrapping their plans to launch a further appeal against the controversial nature of Verstappen‘s win.
Race director Michael Masi had originally said that the lapped cars would not be allowed to unlap themselves but after a word from Red Bull chief Horner, Masi changed his mind, allowing the five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, wiping out the Brit’s 13-second advantage.
Hamilton was unable to defend, given he was on much older tyres, while Verstappen was on fresh, new soft tyres after he pitted during the safety car, leading to the Dutchman pulling off a dramatic overtake and winning his first ever world title.
Since the race Hamilton has left fans wondering what will come next for him, with many reading into his post-race comments as the sign of a possible retirement from the sport.
Following the race, Hamilton picked his words carefully but would only go as far as to say he would ‘see’ about next year.
‘I think we did an amazing job this year,’ Hamilton told the Sky Sports cameras immediately after the race.
‘My team worked so hard this whole year, it’s been the most difficult of seasons.
We gave it everything and never gave up and that’s the most important thing.
‘We’ll see about next year.’
Will Max Verstappen be STRIPPED of his first ever World Championship title?
The celebrations will continue long into the night for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, who won his first ever F1 Driver’s World Championship – but Mercedes have already lodged an appeal against the official results.
At the time of writing, team principal Toto Wolff is yet to comment on the drama, but Mercedes appear to have a clear case against the FIA.
Mercedes’ case looks to question a decision made by race director Michael Masi, who allowed five cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the safety car on the penultimate lap of the race – and may also argue that Verstappen briefly overtook Hamilton behind the safety car.
In the rulebook, Article 48.8 says ‘no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the Line (see Article 5.3) for the first time after the safety car has returned to the pits.’
There is also Article 48.12, which says that ‘any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.’
Regarding the first point, Verstappen looked to pull up alongside Hamilton approaching Turn 12 on lap 57, ahead of the race restarting on lap 58 – the final one.
And for the second argument made by Mercedes, Race Control told Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel to pass the safety car ahead of the drama-filled restart.
However, Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher were not given the same instruction.
Article 48.12 also says: ‘Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.’
Mercedes’ case looks to question a decision made by race director Michael Masi (pictured at Yas Marina circuit yesterday), who allowed five cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the safety car on the penultimate lap of the race – and may also argue that Verstappen briefly overtook Hamilton behind the safety car.
It is unclear what action could be taken, but the investigation is already underway.
Ultimately, if any punishments are meted out, they will single-handedly change the complexion of the title fight – and potentially strip Verstappen of the trophy.
The fact that the tussle came down to the final race of the season means that if there are any alterations to the race result, Hamilton may take home an eighth award.
It will be nothing short of embarrassing for the sport is the outcome is overturned.
But it may also be more damaging for them to leave the result to stand, with rules seemingly conjured up on the last lap of the season to create a soap opera.
Red Bull will now speak to the stewards this evening, with plenty more controversy expected before the day is out.