Formula 1

Mohammed Ben Sulayem: Navigating Challenges in F1’s Controversial Abu Dhabi 2021 Finale

The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, marking the dramatic end of the Formula One season, presented significant challenges for Mohammed Ben Sulayem as the new FIA President. The controversial race, highlighted by a contentious showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, set the stage for Ben Sulayem’s intricate role in addressing and reforming F1’s governing body.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Abu Dhabi 2021 Grand Prix Outcome: The dramatic finish in Abu Dhabi, where Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the final lap following a safety car period, stirred debates on fairness and led to the replacement of race director Michael Masi.
  • Ben Sulayem’s Initial Reaction and Approach: Upon assuming the FIA presidency, Mohammed Ben Sulayem expressed a cautious approach to the controversy, prioritizing understanding the situation before delving into reforms.
  • Structural Changes and Future Planning: Acknowledging the challenges, Ben Sulayem focused on structural improvements in the single-seater department and emphasized the importance of proactive planning to prevent future issues.

The final race of the 2021 Formula One season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix became a focal point of debate in the world of motorsports. The controversy centered around the handling of the race’s concluding stages by then-race director Michael Masi. The decision to allow only certain lapped cars to unlap themselves set up a dramatic one-lap dash to the finish between title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Verstappen, benefiting from fresher tires, clinched the championship by overtaking Hamilton, a move that sparked widespread debate and criticism.

This race’s handling was not just a matter of sporting contention but also influenced the direction of Formula One governance. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, stepping into the FIA presidency in the wake of this controversy, was thrust into a complex situation. His initial reluctance to engage with the controversy was apparent. In an interview, he remarked, “I thought to myself: wait a minute, let me first see what is going on. I just won the election. Let me enjoy that first!”

However, Ben Sulayem did not shy away from acknowledging the race’s flaws. “I will never say that everything went well in this race [GP Abu Dhabi],” he stated, highlighting his commitment to improvement.

His approach shifted the FIA’s stance from reactive to proactive. “I hate being reactive,” he said. “I always say: if you don’t plan, you fail. Have a plan for everything! I was overwhelmed with problems. I wondered what was going on.”

Ben Sulayem’s response to the controversy involved reinforcing the single-seater department’s structure. This move was indicative of his strategy to prevent similar issues in the future, thereby shaping a more robust and fair competitive environment in Formula One. “We have a better structure…so there will be fewer problems,” he concluded, though he acknowledged that the demands and challenges from drivers would persist. This marked a significant step in adapting and evolving the governance of a sport that continues to captivate and occasionally divide its global audience.

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