The 2022 F1 season is finally underway with new regulations that seem to have leveled the playing field in the pack and elevated Ferrari to the status of favourites.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. stormed to a 1-2 in the opening race of the season, followed by an unexpected podium for Lewis Hamilton after the retirement of both Red Bull's.
The 2022 campaign could be a long one for Mercedes judging by how far they are behind Ferrari and Red Bull, leaving one to believe Hamilton may have to wait another year for a history making 8th world title.
With this in mind I still cant forget the way the Sir Lewis was denied the championship last year. It remains unquestionably one of the most unsporting decisions ever made and a title to Verstappen that should go down in Wikipedia with an asterisk against it!
Massi Cossed The Line
We all love sport for its competition, the fight between those competing is what makes it so compelling and the narratives between sportspeople at the top of their game produce stories for the age. If only Mr Michael Masi agreed.
The line between sport and fictional entertainment should never be crossed, and I’m sorry to say that in the final race of the 2021 F1 season, the ‘sport’ crossed so far over that line that you could barely see it in the rearview mirror.
In denying Lewis Hamilton a record eighth F1 Drivers Championship title by manipulating a clear set of rules and regulations in the name of entertainment, Michael Masi jeopardised the very future of this so-called sport.
Hamilton had done brilliantly to turn around a championship that was edging towards the grasp of Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team.
He overturned a huge points deficit midway through the season and his Mercedes team were one lap away from producing a stunning achievement by retaining their untouchable constructors crown and placing their top man, Lewis Hamilton at the top of the pile among the drivers.
But with the safety car plodding its way around the Abu Dhabi track in the final couple of laps in the season finale, Masi ripped up the rulebook and manufactured a one-lap shootout.
The rules do not allow for a selection of cars to make their way past the safety car, it’s clear that all of them have to go through - which would take a little longer for them to get around and rejoin the queue in their correct place, and allow Hamilton his deserved win - or none of them.
Hamilton had worked so hard to win the previous three races in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and was on course to pass the chequered flag first behind the safety car, had the rules been applied.
But Masi wanted more drama. He simply couldn’t let the race finish behind the safety car as it should have, and made the bizarre decision to manufacture this one-lap faceoff. Verstappen in second, Hamilton in first. Whoever crossed the finish line first wins the championship.
‘I can’t wait for Drive To Survive’ was the popular response on social media when the decision was made - and we’ll get to Netflix’s ‘drama’ shortly. But the reaction from the Mercedes garage was one of understandable range.
Masi’s reply to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolf was just laughable. ‘It’s called a motor race’, he said. Well, Masi, if it is a ‘motor race’ take a look at the rules you have to uphold and make sure it is a ‘motor race’ rather than a piece of scripted entertainment. They’re two very different things!
The dust hasn’t really settled on this. Over the winter, Masi was removed from his role and the FIA, F1’s governing body, said that ‘human error’ was a factor.
But there’s not been an apology to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton - not that such grovelling would cut it, only a world championship would, or at least an asterisk next to Verstappen’s maiden title.
Mercedes Off The Pace
To make matters worse, Hamilton and Mercedes are miles off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari in the early stages of this season, suggesting that without significant upgrades and improvements, they’ll struggle to win a race let alone a championship.
This compounds things further that Lewis might not be able to challenge for the title this season, meaning there’s a very good chance he’ll be forever stuck on seven titles, joint at the top with Michael Schumacher rather than standing proud at the top of the pile with eight. Drive To Survive
Now, onto Drive To Survive. The hit Netflix show following the circus of F1 since the 2018 season provides viewers with an exclusive behind the scenes look at the sport and brings to life the characters we don’t always get to see.
It’s worth saying that the series has undoubtedly raised the profile of the sport, which is never a bad thing, but there are some significant drawbacks.
The series is filled with inaccuracies all in the name of entertainment. There’s faux commentary looped in to provide what seems an attempt at context, but it’s little more than manufactured drama.
There are also team radio messages played out of context, again, all for the added entertainment. There’s a lot of constructed entertainment at play, does that remind you of anything?
Those that have been paying attention should now be asking themselves, ‘would Masi have torn up the rulebook if F1 wasn’t in such an aggressive pursuit of putting entertainment ahead of sporting honesty?’
It’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about and the answer is, and has always been, ‘NO!’ But here we are. Netflix and F1 got the dramatic conclusion that they wanted, the profile of the operation has been raised, but is this sport or reality entertainment franchise chasing fame over fairness? Other sports, beware.
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