The last doubt over the identity of the 2021 Formula 1 world champion is over, with Mercedes dropping plans to appeal the rejection of its Abu Dhabi Grand Prix protest.
Max Verstappen’s win in the race and the world title stands, and Lewis Hamilton remains a seven-time champion.
Has Mercedes handled the controversy and fallout right? What should happen next?
Our writers give their snap verdicts:
Still holding the FIA accountable is the key bit
It’s no surprise to me the appeal isn’t happening.
Mercedes wanted justice for what happened more than anybody and even the team recognised it was best not to pursue that path.
And when the FIA published its statement yesterday promising an in-depth review of what happened and strongly implied changes would be made, that felt like ‘part one’, with Mercedes dropping its appeal being ‘part two’.
That FIA review is the most important part of Mercedes’ statement to me, where the team pledges to “hold the FIA accountable for this process”.
Of course, ‘no appeal’ draws a line under the outcome. But it cannot be the end point because the end of the race was clearly not managed correctly.
Mercedes accepting the result will lead many to think the FIA has simply got away with this. It’s down to the stakeholders involved in reviewing what happened to ensure that is not the case.
The finale wasn’t the real problem
I don’t think Mercedes was ever going to come out of any appeal successfully. I have been there and I can assure you it is not easy to overcome the FIA’s decisions.
That doesn’t mean Mercedes was not right to put together a challenge but in reality it was the last race of the season, the FIA prize-giving is just around the corner and the championship has been decided over 22 races.
There are so many occasions that defined the end result and this last race is just an example of the wider problem with regulation implementation.
Either of these drivers is a worthy champion and we should all thank them and their teams for a fantastic season.
But one was always going to win and the other was going to be second.
It’s just a pity that the FIA stepped in on that decision at the last moment and didn’t much earlier in the season when the fireworks between the rivals were being lit.
This appeal was never going to happen
Mercedes was almost certain to withdraw its appeal, right from the start.
That’s not because it didn’t have a case, because it did, and it’s not because the FIA handled the race according to the regulations, because it didn’t.
It’s simply the reality of the way the politics of F1 works that it would end this way.
The fascinating question is exactly how this played out behind the scenes. Mercedes had a strong position, the FIA was motivated to make the protest ‘go away’ so exactly how this accord has been reached is what really matters. There will have been some frantic horse-trading going on in recent days to reach this outcome.
None of this means Mercedes and Hamilton don’t have reason to feel aggrieved because the end of the race was mishandled. But the realpolitik of the situation inevitably meant that this would be the outcome.
The right call, after some wrong ones
Mercedes’ decision is clearly the correct one for the greater good of the sport and should be lauded as such.
The way it was handled, though – radio silence, keeping counsel and then a surely pre-orchestrated hand-ringing social media post by Toto Wolff’s wife Susie Wolff this morning – was incongruous to say the least.
The withdrawal of not only Mercedes’ F1 car but also the Formula E title-winning car from the FIA ‘champions’ photo’ yesterday felt arbitrary and juvenile. Knowing the FIA, this poke at officialdom and tradition will not be forgotten.
These peripheral matters aside, the statement is sound and clear in understanding that an existential debate about sport and showbiz needs to be settled for future campaigns. That should be up to Formula 1 and the FIA, not just one of the two parties.
Moreover, the FIA investigative commission needs absolute public transparency, just as those team messages to and from the FIA within races have, if it is to be proactive in assessing how such instances as occurred last Sunday cannot happen again.
Mercedes’ rhetoric is excessive
Mercedes had every right to be aggrieved by what transpired in Abu Dhabi. It had every right to protest, and it would’ve had every right to appeal the dismissal of that protest.
Its decision not to go through with the appeal is good for F1, and I am thankful for it. And its statement is almost perfect.
“Lose faith in racing?” Give me a break. What transpired in Abu Dhabi does not rank in the top 10 of the biggest injustices in racing. It cannot see the top 10 from where it is on the list.
It is a situation to learn from and analyse deeply, and it will rightly bring about changes to F1 officiating, but it should only shake your belief in the foundations of F1 if you’re a team that’s too used to winning, and one that has had basically everything go right for it in the hybrid era until now.
Two months prior, Red Bull and Mercedes were among those fighting for another title – in the DTM.
Red Bull’s Liam Lawson was on course to comfortably be champion before he got pile-driven out of the title decider by a terrible move from Audi’s Kelvin van der Linde.
It was an obvious, massive injustice that did not seem to shake Mercedes’ “faith in racing” enough to prevent it from using its fleet of customer teams – something unavailable to Red Bull, which had only a pair of Ferraris, one of them broken – to ensure its driver Maxi Gotz got an easy ride to the title.
I don’t much believe in “what goes around, comes around”, and am not trying to present this as an example. But motorsport is a mean business – and being ‘screwed’ is part of the game sometimes.
A dignified move in a messy week
There have been times this week when Mercedes’ radio silence hasn’t been a great look.
Withdrawing Hamilton from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix post-race press conference and the rumours of what would’ve amounted to a boycott of the FIA prize-giving gave the impression of a snub not just to the officials Mercedes felt robbed by, but to Verstappen, Red Bull and maybe even the motorsport community.
You could simultaneously feel Mercedes’ pain at the shock circumstances of the final laps – which were definitely handled in an unexpected way by race direction – and see the ‘sore loser’ accusations as valid.
Its statement this morning draws just the right kind of line under proceedings.
It’s perhaps a little excessive in places, but this is world championship level sport. People – both fans and participants – are supposed to care and take it extremely seriously. I’m thinking less about Hamilton and Wolff’s feelings there and more about the hundreds of people in the Mercedes garage and factory and the emotions they’d have felt on Sunday night. The fact Masi created a situation where there could be a question mark accentuated the losing party’s pain, and understandably so.
Any attempt to overturn the outcome of the world championship would’ve been over the top. A move to make sure lessons are learned is just right, and maybe Mercedes needed to go this far to be sure that would happen.
Officiating an F1 race isn’t easy. Officiating an F1 race in the closest and most bitterly fought season in decades, in a world of loudly polarised opinions and fervent-to-the-point-of-aggression fanbases, amid such openness that radio messages are broadcast without context to millions, and in the final moments of a title decider with the team bosses screaming in your ears… that’s really, really, really not easy.
All the more reason to make sure the system in place to do it is the best one possible, and both Mercedes and Red Bull have held multiple reasons to question that all season long.
This wasn’t just ‘racing luck’
Mercedes did the decent thing for the sake of the sport – because its appeal was winnable, it had such a strong case but it would be disastrous to change the outcome of the world championship after the event.
This wasn’t about who was more deserving of Hamilton or Verstappen as world champion, it was about incorrect procedure interfering with – and changing – the race’s outcome and that of the title.
All other bits of racing luck are just that, just the way things happen. This was incorrect procedure and therefore not the natural outcome.
That would be the same if it had been Verstappen the victim and Hamilton the recipient, in which case Red Bull would presumably have taken it to appeal.
There is no elegant way out of this other than if Mercedes dropped its appeal – which thankfully it has done.