Webber: ‘Scars need healing’ after F1 2021 title controversy

Former F1 driver Mark Webber says there are still “scars that need healing” between 2021 title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, as they prepare to renew their rivalry ahead of the 2022 season.

After a season in which Hamilton and Verstappen collided on three separate occasions, the Dutchman took the title in controversial circumstances at the last race in Abu Dhabi, passing Hamilton for the lead on the final lap after a contentious Safety Car restart.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team were particularly aggrieved at the outcome, and only backed down from a threat to appeal the result after the FIA confirmed it would establish a commission to investigate the events of Abu Dhabi.

Usually a frequent user of social media, Hamilton did not post any updates on any channels for 55 days after Abu Dhabi, prompting speculation that the seven-time World Champion was set to walk away from F1.

“It’s hard. I think we need a year off. They need a year off. There’s still some old scars there that need some healing,” Webber told Wide World of Sports.

“That might be done after their careers – they can have a red wine together. But while they’re racing against each other they’ll be big rivals, and that’s what we want in the sport.”

Hamilton “felt he was robbed” on the final lap

The controversy in Abu Dhabi erupted when Race Director Michael Masi ended a late Safety Car period with one lap to go, and allowed five lapped cars sitting between leader Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen to unlap themselves.

With no backmarkers in his way, and on much fresher tyres, Verstappen passed Hamilton on the final lap to win the race and snatch the 2021 championship away from his rival, and Webber noted that losing the title in such circumstances would be hard for the Briton to take.

“It was a really tough finish for him mentally, at the end of last year,” the Australian said.

“He led 99 per cent of that race. To lose it the way he did, it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s a big pill to swallow.

“He felt he was robbed on the last lap, because he couldn’t fight. He had nothing to fight with, and it wasn’t through his own doing. He was fighting against something that was an outside force.

“When it’s Max Verstappen on fresh tyres it’s a real challenge.”

Masi under fire over F1 title finish

Masi’s decision to allow only the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves was widely criticised, and rumours have suggested that the Australian may be removed from his role before the 2022 F1 season starts.

The FIA’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Abu Dhabi finale is still ongoing, with a report due to be released in the coming weeks.

At the time, Masi spoke of a long-standing agreement between all the teams that, where possible, races should end under green flag conditions, and not under a Safety Car.

“For the sport, we were all disappointed it ended like that; it’s not how we wanted it to end. Both of them deserved to lift that trophy, but we did not want it to finish like that at all,” Webber added.

“We wanted a straight fight, a clean fight, and unfortunately there was one guy with his hand tied behind his back.

“Of course, in hindsight, they would all agree we could have done something different; what happened wasn’t the ideal scenario.”

With huge changes being made to the F1 rule book for 2022, our journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Thomas Maher look ahead to the new season.


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