Lewis Hamilton told his team radio that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was “manipulated” after being passed on the last lap.
Max Verstappen won the Formula 1 championship for Red Bull (Sunday 12 December) in a dramatic but controversial way.
Verstappen stormed Mercedes title rival Hamilton on the last lap of the season-ending race at the Yas Marina circuit after benefiting from a late safety car that brought the field together.
Hamilton seemed to be racing to glory, easily holding Verstappen at bay in the closing laps, only for a crash by Nicholas Latifi’s Williams to turn the tide.
Confusion reigned as race director Michael Masi changed his mind to allow overtaken cars to overtake the safety car — meaning Verstappen had a clear run against Hamilton on the final lap and, with much faster tires, ended up winning a first F1 title.
Although he lost an eighth championship in the cruelest fashion, Hamilton was magnanimous in post-race defeat; However, speaking on the radio after being caught, he made it clear that he felt he had been unfairly deprived of the victory.
The 36-year-old said: “This has been manipulated, man.”
Indeed, even people outside the sport were shocked by what they saw and felt that an injustice had been done.
Gary Lineker tweeted: “Imagine Man City and Liverpool fighting for the title. On the last day of the season they meet and City are 3 minutes away from the win. The referee decides it would be more exciting to have a penalty shoot-out. In addition, City players must be barefoot. ”
Piers Morgan added: “I don’t know what I just watched, but it can’t be true. Hamilton got robbed, surely?”
Mercedes immediately launched two appeals against the result — one against Verstappen for allegedly overtaking a safety car and a second for violating the rules regarding race restarts after a safety car period.
Both were dismissed after both teams spent hours in the stewards’ office, with Verstappen finally able to celebrate his title more than four hours after crossing the finish line.
However, Mercedes has already filed an intention to appeal the decision to restart the race for the last lap.
Christian Horner, team manager at Red Bull, said the tactical decisions won the day.
He said: “We needed the intervention of the gods.”