ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP)Mercedes filed two protests after Lewis Hamilton lost the Formula One world title to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the last race at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
Verstappen overtook Hamilton on Lap 58 in thrilling style after a crash involving Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car with just a few laps left and confusion surrounded the restart.
One protest was regarding the overtaking and the other concerned the safety car restart procedure.
Before Latifi’s crash, Hamilton was coasting to world title No. 8.
There had already been one virtual safety car deployed earlier in the race for a smaller crash, but this time the real one came out with little time left to remove Latifi’s car and clear debris off the track.
Initially, the decision was taken not to let lapped cars overtake the safety car, which would have meant several drivers would have been in Verstappen’s way at the restart and made it more difficult to reach Hamilton over one lap.
Red Bull team principal was in radio contact with F1 race director Michael Masi at that point and said ”(But) we only need one lap” to finish a race properly.
Masi then reversed the call to allow lapped cars to pass and set up that final lap of racing.
”When everything is clear you have to release the track, so that’s a fair point from the race direction,” Verstappen said after the race in agreement.
However, of the lapped drivers only Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel overtook – those between Hamilton and Verstappen – while Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher did not.
Verstappen made his pass in the fifth turn and Hamilton had one last shot. He pulled his Mercedes even with the Red Bull but couldn’t clear it. Verstappen became the first Dutch world champion and thwarted Hamilton’s bid to move one clear of Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver in F1 history.
The finish angered Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who demanded ”the last lap be reinstated.”
But Masi was firm in his reply.
”Toto, it’s called a motor race,” he said. ”We want car racing.”
The other protest was for the way Verstappen drove before the race restarted. He pulled right alongside Hamilton near the end of Lap 57 and fractionally ahead on Lap 58.
The regulations say ”no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the line for the first time after the safety car has returned to the pits.”
Mercedes lodged their protests within the allotted 30-minute window after the race.
The team said it would ”not make any further comment on the detail of that until the hearing has been conducted”.
Verstappen was asked to comment on the Mercedes protest.
”Not much really to say about that, it also sums up a little bit the season,” said Verstappen, who in previous races has expressed frustration at some penalties that have been given against him – including two in the last race in Saudi Arabia.
He had responded with sarcasm to the initial decision not to allow lapped cars to overtake the safety car.
”Of course, I’m not surprised,” Verstappen said with an air of resignation.
Minutes later, he was overtaking Hamilton on the way to glory.
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