A season that will be remembered… for the wrong reasons

A season that will be remembered… for the wrong reasons

As we prepared for the lights to go out to mark the beginning of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we knew that the race would end with history being made. Either Lewis Hamilton would earn his record 8ᵗʰ title, or Max Verstappen would have his name added to the list of World Champions. With the pair going into the race level on points, we expected a close fight, but nothing could prepare us for what would come next.

With 10 laps left of the race, Lewis Hamilton seemed destined to win. Having got a lead on the opening lap, his pace had been consistently better than Verstappen during the early and middle phase of the race, and while Max had gone for an extra stop for fresher tyres, he was not getting enough of a pace advantage to catch the Brit before the end. As Red Bull Racing’s Team Principal Christian Horner stated to the Sky commentary team, it would take a miracle from the F1 gods for Max to win. 

f1 abu dhabi gp safety car lapped cars

That miracle happened as Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed with five laps to go, prompting a safety car. With the work max had put in to catch Lewis, there was not enough of a gap for Lewis to pit for fresh tyres and retain his lead, however Max was able to pit for a fresh pair of soft tyres and still come out in 2ⁿᵈ, however with a handful of cars between them that Max would have to lap. Now normal process under a safety car would be that all lapped cars would be allowed through once the track was clear to unlap themselves, however the initial call from Race Director was that no lapped cars would be let through. However, on the penultimate lap, the call suddenly came for all lapped cars between Max and Lewis (not the rest of the lapped cars) to be let through and get down the road, with the remainder of the cars getting 1 lap to race to end the season. With faster, fresher tyres, Verstappen passed Hamilton for the lead and successfully held off the Brit to win the race and his maiden title.

f1 abu dhabi gp 2021 lewis hamilton max verstappen

What should have been a wonderful moment for Max became overshadowed though, as Mercedes lodged protests as to the way the final laps were handled by Michael Masi, while social media was rife with people saying that the FIA were corrupt and did not want Lewis to win, some even going as far as to say it was racially motivated. Meanwhile others saw it as karma, after Lewis was allowed to retain the lead on the opening lap despite going off track and cutting a corner, a decision that baffled the assorted former Champions who were on pundit duty.

Sadly these issues dogged the whole season, with no consistency in any decisions, and many going in favour of Mercedes. When Lewis crashed into Max and sent him to hospital at Silverstone, it was Max who was blamed. Valtteri Bottas received little punishment for truly reckless driving after taking out a number of cars at the opening corner of the Hungarian Grand Prix, which left Max racing with a damaged car so struggling for pace and Sergio Perez out of the race. The just last week in Saudi Arabia, Mercedes escaped punishment for a number of questionable acts, and yet when a lunge up the inside from Max saw both him and Lewis go wide, he was forced to give the place back to Lewis, only for the Mercedes driver to slow down and remain right behind him, which resulted in him rear-ending the Red Bull as Max braked unexpectedly.

Personally, I feel that the right person won the championship for the season, but the wrong person won the race, as Lewis’ car looked much faster than Max’s, so much so that even giving the place back on the opening lap would have probably only delayed the inevitable, especially as the Mercedes miraculously (or illegally, depending who you ask) managed to stop losing performance in dirty air in the final few weeks. To have the title decided in such suspicious circumstances just harms the credibility of the sport where already so much of the action is manufactured. Take away the DRS and you lose the majority of overtakes in a race, while the Netflix series Drive To Survive may be bringing in more viewers to the sport, but is creating manufactured rivalries and tension for entertainment purposes.

Despite that, there has been so much to love about this season, with so many fantastic drivers out there, and moments that should be remembered fondly: Think of Esteban Ocon benefitting multiple times from the big names all fighting for space in early corners and passing through the chaos like Moses parting the Red Sea. Think of Lewis Hamilton beating Sergio Perez off the final lap restart in Azerbaijan after tyre failure saw Max crash out, only for Lewis to get the braking wrong at Turn 1 and go straight on as everyone else made the turn, going from maximum points to no points in the space of a second. Even in this race, think of Sergio Perez—who at one point looked like he would not have a team for this season—playing the ultimate wingman role by holding up Lewis with a couple of laps of fantastic racing to allow Max to come up. Sadly, too many moments like this will be forgotten in the controversy of the season.

So what next? 2022 is going to be a new era for F1, with very different cars. What also needs to change is the inconsistency of the FIA, Michael Masi and the Stewards, as another season of decisions like this will see drivers taking things into their own hands, and that’s when things will get deadly…

Movember 2021: Day 6

Movember 2021: Day 6

It’s that time of year again! That time when I brave cold cheeks in the name of charity. Yes it’s Movember!

I’ve been doing Movember for about 10 years now as it’s a cause that is close to my heart, and this year, as we are now able to be more sociable again, I am back to fundraising for the Movember Foundation. You can find my Mo-Space here if you wish to donate, anything will be greatly appreciated! For those who haven’t heard of the Movember Foundation, they focus on “changing the face of men’s health” with a focus on testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.

This year, I’m planning to chart my “Mo-gression” with a series of posts on here. I’m aiming for one every 5-6 days but don’t hold me to that. For each one, I’ll let you have an update on how things are going along with my latest picture so that you can see how the growth is going. But this site is all about sport, so of course I have added a slight sporting twist, as each of my Mo-gression posts will also include a quick look at someone in the sporting world who has a notable moustache. I won’t promise that they will be the most famous moustached sport stars in the world, purely the ones who first came to mind as I put this together.

So… let’s get underway!

Day 6

Today is a big day!

After going back to the baby face and seeing the stubble grow back in for the best part of the week—not to mention going to my friend’s wedding reception without the comfort of my beard—today was the day that I officially went for the first shaping of this year’s mo. So without further ado, I present to you 2021’s Monkeytail!

Those who know me will know that the Monkeytail has become a personal favourite over the years as not only does it look suitably ridiculous for a month of fundraising, but it is also surprisingly easy to keep shaped.

A big thank you to those who have already donated this year. I’ve set myself a relatively low initial target of £100 this month, and thanks to your generosity I am already 30% of the way there, but I would love to hit this target ASAP and push for a higher amount, so any donations would be greatly appreciated!

Sporting Mo

So for Day 6, I’ve moved away from the rugby pitch and onto the racetrack, with a look at Nigel Mansell

Nigel Mansell is a British former racing driver. In Formula 1, he raced for Lotus (1980-84), Williams (85-88) and Ferrari (89-90), before returning to Williams (91-92). Mansell won the 1992 Championship, before leaving F1 for the CART Indy Car World Series, which he won in his debut season in 1993. After the 1994 CART season, he returned to Formula 1 with Williams for rounds 7, 14, 15 and 16 of the 1994 season following the death of Ayrton Senna. He moved to McLaren for the 1995 season, but retired after races 3 and 4.

In Formula 1, Mansell turned 191 (187 starts) into 31 wins—the only Brit to have eclipsed this to date is Lewis Hamilton—and 59 podiums. From 31 starts in CART, Mansell managed 5 victories and 13 podiums. Mansell was inducted to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Disciplinary Problems? Cavendish v Sagan

So this is something I’ve contemplated writing since Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the Tour de France, but due to my relative inexperience in this sport – it was only during last year’s Tour that I became a regular viewer of the Grand Tours – I was unsure if it was right to do so. However I have decided to write about it as I feel it needs looking into.

 

By now, many people will have seen the dramatic end to Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, where Arnaud Démare’s first ever stage victory on a Grand Tour was relegated to being a side-note next to discussions of Mark Cavendish’s crash and Peter Sagan’s disqualification for his part in the incident. Sagan was initially docked 30 seconds and 80 points in the battle for the green jersey, but this punishment was later upgraded to disqualification as he “endangered some of his colleagues seriously.” Cavendish meanwhile, has been forced to leave the tour with a broken shoulder.

My personal opinion is that the initial punishment would have been sufficient. It looked to me that Sagan was simply following the drift of all the racers in the bunch split and attempting to get on Démare’s wheel, unaware that Cavendish – who was behind him – was already in that position. Yes there was a question of his use of an elbow and while some camera angles do make it look bad, others suggest that the elbow was out merely to help him keep his balance. I feel that the punishment has been unduly influenced by the injury to Cavendish.

It is clear that the UCI are trying to improve safety in the bunch sprints – they now allow a 3-second gap between riders on flat stages before they award a slower finishing time, meaning that General Classification riders and teams are not so in the way of the sprinters – and I get the feeling that they will look to reinforce this by being strict on any issues from the bunch sprints. However by that logic, Démare is surely deserving of some punishment as his changes of direction in the same sprint looked far worse and more dangerous than Sagan.

What really surprised and disappointed me, however, was the way that the race commissaires who made the decision to disqualify Sagan did not contain a former racer. In an event like a bike race, there is always an inherent risk, especially in a bunch sprint, so to me a former racer’s perspective should be required to help decide if a crash is simply a racing incident or something more serious.

If we look at another racing sport – Formula 1, they have some very specific rules relating to their officials. From their website I found the following information:

  • At every Grand Prix meeting there are seven key race officials who monitor and control the activities of the stewards and marshals to ensure the smooth and safe running of the event in accordance with FIA regulations.
  • Five of the seven officials are nominated by the FIA. These are the race director (currently Charlie Whiting), a permanent starter and three additional stewards, one of whom is nominated chairman and one of whom is an experienced former driver. The additional stewards must be FIA Super Licence holders.
  • The other two key officials are nominated by the National Sporting Authority (ASN) of the country holding the race. These are the clerk of the course and an additional steward (who must be a national of the host nation). Both must be FIA Super Licence holders.

Notice how of the 7 race officials in F1, at least 5 must be FIA Super Licence holders, a qualification that allows that person to race in F1 Grands Prix. This means that when any incident is looked at during the race, the drivers know that there will be people making a decision who know exactly what is going on at that moment from the point of view of the racers and know exactly what can and can’t be expected from a racer in such a circumstance. It’s not that often that the former racers in the F1 commentary are surprised by the official’s decisions at it also allows them to explain to the armchair fan what will be considered and taken into account about the accident.

I’m not asking the UCI to make as drastic a change as to make the majority of the commissaires former riders, however it is my opinion that they need to have at least one former rider involved in any decisions.

As it is, we have lost 2 great racers for the remaining 2 and a half weeks of the Tour and the green jersey – which has been won by either Cavendish or Sagan each of the last 6 years – is certainly up for grabs. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

 

What are your thoughts on the incident and the disciplinary procedure? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge