Entertainment, Sports

Lewis Hamilton will not let controversial end to 2021 season ‘define’ his career

Lewis Hamilton said he will not allow the controversial conclusion to last season define his Formula One career.

But a defiant Hamilton – back in the public spotlight two months and six days after the contentious Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – also demanded that the FIA must be held to account to ensure what happened to him is never repeated.

Hamilton, the most decorated driver in the sport’s history, was on course to win a record-breaking eighth world championship before race director Michael Masi seemingly broke the rules to allow Max Verstappen the chance to take the title following a late safety car.

The FIA appeared to accept that a mistake was made when Masi was eventually dismissed from his position on Thursday.

The sporting federation also announced a complete overhaul of race control, while its inquiry into the final laps in Abu Dhabi is ongoing.

“At the end of every season, the question I ask myself is whether I am willing to commit the time and effort that it takes to be a world champion,” said Hamilton, 37.

“A lot of people underestimate what it takes to be a world champion. Do I want to sacrifice the time? Can I punch at the weight I have been punching?

“That is a normal mental process for me, but this year was compounded by a significant factor about a sport I have loved my whole life. There was a moment where I lost a little bit of faith.

Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in controversial circumstances to take his maiden Formula One title (PA Wire)
Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in controversial circumstances to take his maiden Formula One title (PA Wire)

“I put faith and trust alongside each other and trust can be lost in a blink of an eye or a flick of a finger.

“But I am a determined person and I like to think to myself that while moments like this might define other people’s careers, I will refuse to let it define mine.

“And although we cannot change the past – and nothing will ever change how it felt at the time – it is good to see the FIA is taking steps to improve, and accountability is key.

“We have to use this moment to make sure this never happens to anybody else in this sport ever again.”

Hamilton, speaking as his Mercedes team launched its new car for the forthcoming campaign, revealed that he has not revisited the Yas Marina race.

Michael Masi was removed from his post as F1 race director on Thursday
Michael Masi was removed from his post as F1 race director on Thursday (David Davies/PA)

The Briton, who has spent the majority of the last two months in America, added: “It was obviously a difficult time for me. I just unplugged and switched off.

“It took time to digest what happened and it is still difficult to fully understand everything.

“But eventually I got to a point where I decided I was going to be attacking again coming into another season.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and if you think what you saw at the end of last year was my best, wait until you see this year.

“This has nothing to do with Max. Max did everything a driver would do given the opportunity he was given.

“I don’t hold grudges. It is not a good thing to carry around with you. I move forward, I don’t dwell on the past. I feel fresh, centred and, I don’t have anything holding me back.”

Mercedes lodged, and then dropped, their appeal against the result of the season finale in a reported quid pro quo agreement that Masi would be removed by the FIA.

But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: “Dropping the appeal being linked to anyone leaving the FIA is not true.

“The restructuring at the FIA regarding how decisions are being made was necessary. Last year was a great season but it created a lot of polarisation with decisions that were not always easy to understand.”

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are team-mates in 2022
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are team-mates in 2022 (Mercedes-AMG/PA)

Asked to address suggestions that the race in Abu Dhabi was fixed, Wolff replied: “No. It was just circumstances and decisions that were unprecedented and how they came about certainly for us was a shock.

“Three laps to the end we got a message that the cars were not allowed to unlap, and four minutes later suddenly there are two messages that came out of nowhere. The championship was gone within half a minute of a decision-making process and that is unprecedented.

“We have to move on and to put it aside. We are not going to forget it – because that is simply not possible – but we need to look to 2022 and today launching the car is the moment, along with the steps that have been taken by the FIA, to embark on the season with encouragement.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Abu Dhabi race, George Russell, Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate, called the result “completely unacceptable”.

Speaking on Friday, the Briton, 24, said: “We have all come to the agreement that what happened in Abu Dhabi was incorrect.

“Mistakes happen in the heat of the moment when emotions are high, but fingers crossed the changes made by the FIA means it will not happen again.

“I really feel for Lewis. He had that race under control. He only had to bring it home to become an eight-time world champion, but he had that taken away from him.”

Hamilton and Russell will be in action at next week’s first test in Barcelona ahead of the new season which starts in Bahrain on March 20.

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