Paddock Diary: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix part two

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Formula 1 may have enjoyed a commercially successful season but the championship came to an acrimonious end in Abu Dhabi, with one team celebrating and another planning an appeal.

Saturday

I head for the circuit, arriving at midday. I’d requested time with McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown to discuss F1’s commercial performances during 2021, the first under Stefano Domenicali. He makes the point that virtually all metrics are well up, with race contracts extending for longer and a number of new trackside sponsors signed. All in, Zak is impressed with the manner in which Stefano has transitioned from Lamborghini CEO to F1 boss.

While chatting to Zak I notice FIA presidential hopeful Mohammed bin Sulayem sitting in the team’s hospitality so approach him to discuss his plans and policies should be elected FIA president during next Friday’s general assembly meeting in Paris.

We’ll be bringing you a full profile on the man and his campaign in the run-up to the elections – we profiled his challenger, Graham Stoker, here last week – but during our chat, bin Sulayem stresses that he has no plans to relocate the FIA headquarters to Dubai should he be elected.

“I love Paris and have a private plane, so can fly backwards and forwards,” he tells me. He believes the time is ripe for the governing body to have its first non-European president, adding he has enormous support in Asia, South America and Africa.

In closing we discuss his collection of Mercedes 600s – he owns 21 of the behemoths so beloved of dictators and the oligarchs. His Dubai workshop is a Mercedes-approved restorer and able to fully tend and rebuild these most complex of sixties cars.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2021On my way back to the media centre for lunch I spy Red Bull Racing adviser Helmut Marko, so ask the Austrian whether this year’s world championship battle is more important for the team than the 2010-13 titles they won with Sebastian Vettel.

“Ten years ago the title battle was totally open, whereas this time it’s a matter of stopping Mercedes, who have dominated the hybrid era,” the former F1 driver and Le Mans winner says. “Also, for our works partner Honda, who are leaving this year, it’s very important that they leave on a high.”

Prior to qualifying I have one last stab at sorting my local Covid app with the local test manager – and we hit the jackpot. It seems somewhere along the line a digit was dropped from my unique identifier number, so passport and test results didn’t tally. At least I’ll be able to fly home Monday with a certificate and don’t need to explain that the ‘green’ text messages I’d received after each test are okay…

Post-qualifying the interviews are over at 9pm – with the main discussion points (again) being perceived inconsistencies, and how Red Bull out-witted Mercedes through Sergio Perez’s tow of Max Verstappen.

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Sunday

After my test I wander the paddock in search of information on Porsche’s decision as to whether (or not) to enter F1. I’d received a message on Friday from a German source saying that the company’s supervisory board had met on Thursday to discuss the matter, but that he’s unsure as to exactly what was decided.

“The delay is either very good news which is taking time to communicate properly,” he says, “or be diametrically the opposite and they don’t want to make any announcement about what would be a corporate non-event…”

After talking to various folk I’m none the wiser on Porsche, so switch focus back to Domenicali’s performance. Not a bad word is said, not even when I offer to go off-record, which is amazing given that not too long ago the paddock was widely referred to as the ‘Piranha Club’.

Walking the grid before the start is a simply incredible experience: the tension was as tight as a kite string in a storm, with the pre-start nervousness at both Red Bull and Mercedes being off the scale. I wish both Christian Horner and Toto Wolff all the best as they walk by.

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Thereafter it is time to prepare for the title showdown of the millennium (to date). Much has and will be written about the race and its messy aftermath, but from my perspective it’s fitting that the driver who took the title despite the best efforts of Mercedes – who brought a barrister to Abu Dhabi, speaking volumes about their perceptions of F1’s current governance – won the most races, while Mercedes, which overall had the fastest car, scored the constructors’ championship.

That said, I believe the decision by Lewis Hamilton to duck out of media commitments after the race smacks of poor sportsmanship, regardless of circumstances. That is not the Lewis I’ve gotten to know and respect over the past 15 years – not only is it a poor showing by one of the greatest drivers of all time, but in breach of F1’s sporting regulations.

That said, I sincerely hope he appears at the media sessions ahead of FIA awards gala on Thursday in Paris, unlike in 2019, when he allegedly “didn’t feel 100%” yet looked perfectly fine that evening as he showed up to collect his trophy. I forgave him then, but a repeat would be disgraceful unless he genuinely is unable to make it despite best endeavours.

That brings us to the end of the most tumultuous season I’ve experienced in over 20 years of reporting on F1, a year compounded by the challenges and obstacles of Covid. I trust you’ve enjoyed my contributions as much as I have enjoyed bringing them to you from across the world, and wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and healthy and prosperous 2022. Here’s to F1’s new era!

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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52 comments on “Paddock Diary: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix part two”

  1. And what a year it was. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, and here’s to a close (knock on wood) Championship in 2022!

  2. Thereafter it is time to prepare for the title showdown of the millennium (to date). Much has and will be written about the race and its messy aftermath, but from my perspective it’s fitting that the driver who took the title despite the best efforts of Mercedes – who brought a barrister to Abu Dhabi, speaking volumes about their perceptions of F1’s current governance – won the most races, while Mercedes, which overall had the fastest car, scored the constructors’ championship.

    Perfect summary of the season.

    1. A bit circular that one. Max won the most races by virtue of the ‘strange’ stewarding decision, and therefore ended up as Champion by virtue of the same. Up until that point Max had no answer to Lewis and they would have finished on equal wins – only this time with Lewis as Champion by dint of superior points tally.

      1. *no answer in this race*

  3. Excellent article, and insight, as always.
    Lewis’s no-show is a real shame, as his immediate post race interview was graceful and measured.

    1. Probably instructed by Mercedes?

      He had behaved very well all day (maybe helped by his father’s influence), even personally approached Kimi to acknowledge his retirement before the race, and of course how he approached the winners after the race.

      Hopefully it wasn’t just for the cameras.

  4. Your view on Hamilton ‘smacks of poor sportsmanship, regardless of circumstances’ and the farcical ‘winner’ of the championship is ‘fitting’ – I think it’s about time you considered retirement if you think anything about that is acceptable.

  5. it’s fitting that the driver who took the title despite the best efforts of Mercedes […] won the most races

    Yes, 10-8. But without that atrocious call by Masi, the score would have been 9-9.

    1. +1 @gsagostinho
      If Mercedes take this to court, as they can, I can easily see the race result and so the championship being overturned. Is that good for the sport? Who knows. For it to continue to function as a viable, rules-based sport, I think so.

      As for Hamilton, he was praising of Verstappen and Red Bull. Given the acrimonious circumstances, and the genuine possibility of litigation, I can understand him (and Wolff) avoiding any immediate comments. It’s a shame Dieter Rencken, as an experienced racing journalist, cannot appreciate that. I find other remarks tendentious too, as always, but I guess everyone has their own partialities, even journalists. Red Bull play hyper-aggressively at every level. Making them out as underdogs this season is quite ridiculous. They had FIA’s ear most of the time. As we saw all too well.

      1. @david-br I agree. An easy way to overturn is taking the final results from the penultimate lap instead (as should be the case, given one full lap didn’t get completed after unlapping began.)
        Merc could even attempt suing Masi for race-fixing since he only allowed unlapping after Horner had urged him.

        1. Article in the Guardian today.
          I’m not a lawyer but my immediate response after understanding what had unfolded at the end of the race was that, were Mercedes to take this to arbitration, FIA have cotton wool and other bits of fluff to defend their actions with. You can’t be in a sport in which teams invest millions and simply invent new rules literally in the last minutes of a championship. Saying ‘the race director decide whatever he wants’ isn’t going to work. Other teams will look on to this to know whether they have any serious chance of competing with Red Bull and Verstappen on level terms in the future. Just now I still believe in Formula 1 as a sport, but only just. It’s teetering on collapse due to its wild refereeing, clearly aimed at ‘show’ above fair and consistent decision-making.

        2. (sorry, reply to @jerejj )

        3. @david-br and @jerejj
          Duncan Bradshaw, quoted in the Guardian article, has no sports arbitration experience. He arbitrates commercial disputes with clear governing law. This isn’t, this is more akin to administrative law. His opinion isn’t particularly relevant.
          Also, the ‘result’ Mercedes want, is not foreseen for in the regulations. Taking the result a lap back is also in contravention of the regulations – so that would mean the remedy is another illegal result. So then the whole race is annulled, in which case…

          I am surprised to see two such good commenters doing this tin-hat stuff. But fair enough, yesterday was bizarre by itself.

          1. @hahostolze The race stewards have a broad power (in Article 11 of the International Sporting Code, which Mercedes referenced in their protest) to “amend the classification” of the race. So in theory they could do as Mercedes asked. They could also amend the classification to substitute Lewis Hamilton’s 2nd place for Sergio Perez, giving Red Bull the WCC too, in response to Mercedes attempting to bring the sport into disrepute. But, er, you’re probably back into administrative law territory with that kind of abuse of power…

          2. @hahostolze I don’t think it’s tin foil, the right to appeal and arbitration is solidly in the F1 rules. I do agree about a solution (remedy) being problematic. More to the point, I intensely dislike the idea of taking a championship away from someone and a team who have already celebrated it (even if I dislike the personality of a few of those team figures, not including the winning driver, who I admire, faults included). So on one hand, I hate the idea of this going further. On the other, this year has been a Masi-FIA mess and the fact that other teams and drivers are baffled/annoyed by many of the decisions from Brazil means that Formula 1 urgently needs clarification that it is built on a basis of sporting fairness.

            I have given this thought and waited some before commenting. It still feels wrong what happened yesterday. It’s about how this develops next season and beyond. Not who won in 2021. Like I’ve said various times, either driver was worthy of becoming champion.

    2. The only time he finished in a place that was not 1st or 2nd was in Hungary (9th) due to car damaged caused by Bottas’ Mercedes.

      The remaining 3 races he was out of the points were DNF from which only one was due poor judgment (Monza), the other caused by Hamilton & an exploded tyre where he was about to collect 25/26 points.

      He was superior all year season in a slightly inferior car and I think Hamilton knows that.

      Only his fans and british biased people have trouble accepting that.

    3. Spa wasn’t a race, rather a contractual commitment made in personal interest

  6. Lewis was cheated out of the title by the FIA violating their own rules.
    Why should he grace them with his appearance at their rubbish gala that nobody cares about?

    1. @andrewf1 Spot-on. I don’t blame him at all if he doesn’t appear.

      1. Why is Dieter holding Lewis responsible for a team decision? That aside, I’ll never understand the media’s sense of entitlement in situations like these: someone has just gone through such a massive heart break and you think they must show up to face you?

        1. As Dieter has pointed out previously, for example here, covering an F1 season as an accredited journalist is not cheap or easy. So it’s unsurprising that he expects the series and its competitors to hold up its end of the bargain when it comes to, you know, allowing him to do his job.

          1. @red-andy Then blame Mercedes for choosing not to do media appearances until the protests were sorted out. Why blame Lewis personally – did he want him to violate orders from his employer?

        2. someone has just gone through such a massive heart break and you think they must show up to face you?

          Dieter explained this in this very article:

          It’s in the rules.

          1. Like letting alllapped cars through at the end of the safety car period…

          2. @Emma

            (1) That word does not appear in the rules cited by Mercedes.

            (2) You seem unclear as to whether you are for rules or against them.

        3. He’s in breach in of contract by not doing so.

  7. bin Sulayem stresses that he has no plans to relocate the FIA headquarters to Dubai should he be elected.

    “I love Paris and have a private plane, so can fly backwards and forwards,” he tells me.

    FIA Action for Environment.

    1. Yeah, that’s a great introductory message.

    2. Lewisham Milton
      13th December 2021, 17:11

      Got to be impressed by a man who can fly backwards, though.

    3. A non-lying politician?

      Now I’m interested to know who’s he!

  8. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    13th December 2021, 14:08

    decision by Lewis Hamilton to duck out of media commitments after the race smacks of poor sportsmanship

    Dieter, you must have missed the part where Lewis and Anthony went over and congratulated Max and Jos. Lewis even took part in the podium celebrations, unlike Max at Jeddah. Giving the post race conference a miss after the travesty which descended upon him is acceptable.

    breach of F1’s sporting regulations

    This ship long sailed on Lap 57 of the race.

    1. @asleepatthewheel That sonic boom is irony whistling past the writer’s ears.

    2. @ asleepatthewheel I agree with this.

      Hamilton handled himself with incredible poise and grace. The way that Mercedes went into a state of total radio silence after the race made Hamilton missing the post-race press conference look, to me, more like an order from higher up (perhaps even higher than Toto) to position themselves for litigation.

      I found it strange, too, because it seemed Mercedes—which is such a media-savvy team—was missing its best opportunity to put its narrative out in the court of public opinion. If their decisions under safety car were influenced by the race director’s initial indication that lapped cars could not overtake, that would have been the time to trumpet that.

      1. Yeah that’s the case probably.

        Up to that point Hamilton behaved properly.

  9. not only is it a poor showing by one of the greatest drivers of all time, but in breach of F1’s sporting regulations.

    :D Something tells me that Lewis won’t be punished for this.

  10. Dieter shows poor sportsmanship by not providing his opinion on the restart debacle.
    Max win the most races. One race that never had a green flag and one in which the 2nd place driver was allowed to get behind the 1st place driver bit the 3rd place driver had 2 back markers in between.

  11. Thanks for the articles. I’ll miss the back-door / can’t reveal my sources / 1st hand news that sometimes takes weeks to be confirmed officially. But they often are.

    Let’s enjoy the holidays, watch some onboards and chill out because F1 2022 will be this year in steroids…new chassis, new tyres, new brake ducts, new teammates… maybe new stewards…or new procedures…just saying…

    By the way, Ferrari’s engine looked quite powerful…

  12. Nice to find out what RB would find on Hamilton to pick at after the event; but wouldn’t want to say publicly.

    Perhaps Ham should have ignored Max and threw a sulk on the podium before walking off in a huff. That way he wouldn’t have upset anyone.

    1. He would have upset unbiased people in that case.

  13. not only is it a poor showing by one of the greatest drivers of all time, but in breach of F1’s sporting regulations

    The irony in this bit beggars belief :-). Almost as if Dieter didn’t watch the end of the race.

    Still – thanks for all the good content this year.

    1. Or noticed Max walk off the podium in Saudi Arabia.

  14. I love these Paddock Diaries. I always read them last as a sort of light “dessert” compared with the dense new stories. Thanks for writing about a great season and giving us an insider view of every race week!

  15. “smacks of poor sportsmanship”

    Jeez give him a break @dieterrencken. Next you’ll be wanting him to send Masi a Christmas card. After that last lap Netflix ending I think he can be forgiven, he congratulated Max earlier, that’s enough in the circumstances.

  16. I love Paris and have a private plane, so can fly backwards and forwards

    Well done, I guess?

    Talk about reducing the carbon footprint. That’s a big problem in this world… we’ll tax people that use gasoline cars, we’ll force people out of city centres because of pollution, we’ll change to currently expensive renewable energy, but we’ll keep the private planes for ourselves!

    1. I know @fer-no65, they live in their own bubble.

  17. That said, I believe the decision by Lewis Hamilton to duck out of media commitments after the race smacks of poor sportsmanship, regardless of circumstances.

    what do you know about sportsmanship? the guy got off his car after losing the championship in the unluckiest way ever (controversies aside, who would’ve thought Latifi would bin in 6 laps from home?) and congratulated Max right away, his family congratulated the Verstappens, Lewis then gave a hell of pre-podium interview and looked gratious as ever in defeat.

  18. Well hopefully Hamilton won’t be late and let Rencken down again. Maybe he can ask them to get a move on as he has to be somewhere else?

    https://twitter.com/scobie/status/1470374021132951557/photo/1

    1. Absolutely agreed.

      In future, perhaps Hamilton should give Rencken first look at his itinerary, eh?

  19. I figured you’d be pleased with the result Dieter.

    The fact the only breach of the rules you feel fit to mention after that farce is some bs press conference rule speaks volumes.

  20. Glad to see the tone of the comments reflects my own feelings. Good thing Deiter’s not more popular, reminds me of the Naomi Osaka debacle.
    Sport journalists are so entitled, it’s a privilege not a right. “But I paid money” who cares, they’re still real people with real feelings and emotions you’re talking to.

  21. Hi Dieter

    I very much enjoy reading your articles – they are truly superb and my favourite part of reading this site. However, I have to take exception to your comments about Hamilton showing poor sportmanship. I think he handled himself very well after the race.

    Alan

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