Formula 1

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Mercedes Boss Toto Wolff’s Lasting Frustration

Reflecting on the Controversial Final Lap That Denied Lewis Hamilton His Eighth World Title

In the high-octane world of Formula 1, moments of controversy are etched into the annals of history, and the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was no exception. As the dust settled, the frustration and disappointment lingered for Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff, a man deeply affected by the race’s dramatic final lap.

It has been over two years since Lewis Hamilton’s triumphant victory at the Jeddah Grand Prix, yet the events of the subsequent Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continue to cast a long shadow. The 2021 race, characterized by a perplexing decision from the then-race director Michael Masi, is etched into the collective memory of Formula 1 enthusiasts as a race that concluded with controversy.

The race commenced with Max Verstappen securing the pole position, but it was Lewis Hamilton who swiftly assumed the lead. Verstappen made an early attempt to reclaim the lead at turn seven, an endeavor that ultimately proved unsuccessful. Remarkably, Hamilton managed to retain his position without drawing any penalties, despite briefly running wide. Throughout the race, Sergio Perez, piloting the second Red Bull car, played a pivotal role. While Hamilton established a considerable lead, both Verstappen and Hamilton opted for pit stops to acquire fresh tires. Meanwhile, Perez, who found himself temporarily leading the pack, received instructions to slow down Hamilton, effectively allowing Verstappen to narrow the gap.

A pivotal moment unfolded when a virtual safety car was deployed to clear the stricken Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi. Seizing this opportunity, Verstappen dove into the pits for fresh rubber, while Hamilton, opting to remain on the track, held onto his lead. The race’s climax was set in motion when a crash involving Williams driver Nicholas Latifi led to a full safety car deployment. Verstappen, eager to capitalize on the situation, promptly pitted for soft tires, positioning himself directly behind Hamilton, setting the stage for a potential race restart.

However, it was during the final lap that controversy reached its zenith. Initially, race director Michael Masi decided against allowing lapped cars to overtake the safety car and Hamilton, a decision that would later be reversed, but with a caveat. The reversal only applied to cars situated between Verstappen and Hamilton. This ruling placed Verstappen, armed with fresher tires, right on Hamilton’s tail. As the race restarted, Verstappen executed a brilliant overtake on Hamilton, clinching the race and, in the process, securing his first world championship in a truly dramatic fashion.

The FIA, the governing body of Formula 1, subsequently acknowledged that Masi had misinterpreted the rules. In their official report, they stated:

“The race director called the safety car back into the pit lane without it having completed an additional lap as required by the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations.

“The process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error led to the fact that not all cars were allowed to unlap themselves.”

For Toto Wolff, the frustration and disappointment from that fateful day still linger. The controversial events of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix left an indelible mark on Formula 1 history, a reminder that in this sport, the line between victory and defeat can often be drawn in shades of controversy.

However, this acknowledgment has provided little solace to Wolff and his team, who still harbor a profound sense of injustice.

In a recent conversation with’s Brazilian edition, Wolff openly expressed his persistent frustration and strong disapproval of Masi.

But I don’t want to waste a minute [thinking] about the reasons [why it happened], because that would give the man (Masi) too much credit.

“He is just an idiot who made the wrong decision,” Wolff stated, reflecting his unhealed wounds from that day.

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