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A clear "abuse of the rules" proved decisive In Max Verstappen's dramatic first ever Formula One world championship win, with Mercedes lodging two protests.
But the race was full of controversy. Seven-time world champion Hamilton had been in the lead throughout but then a crash involving Nicholas Latifi of Racing Williams led to a safety car being introduced with six laps to go.
To begin with, the instruction from FIA officials was that lapped cars weren't allowed to overtake and instead had to stay in the position they were in behind the safety car.
However after complaints from Red Bull, the rule was surprisingly abolished.
Verstappen pitted onto fast tyres while Hamilton stayed out and after the two raced right next to one another behind the safety car, the former ended up dashing towards a historic win despite both nearly crashing.
Many felt the victory was unjust, though, with Sky Sports' pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz weighing in.
Sky F1's Ted Kravitz telling loud what Mercedes pit crew thinks... Verstappen lunged, no room given, only reason they didn't clash was Hamilton took evasive action (as always).— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) December 12, 2021
Brundle finally agrees... says they called it racing. #F1 #AbuDhabiGP
Verstappen has got to be the luckiest F1 champion. Completely undeserved. Rules on safety cards and tyre changes make it a complete.mockery. #FormulaOne— Justin Allen (@justinallen1976) December 12, 2021
The real Formula one champion 2021 .— Birdy1 🇪🇺 #brexitisaCrime #RejoinEU 3.5% (@Arsenalbirdy1) December 12, 2021
FIA cheating and making rules up as the go along. pic.twitter.com/OyC3zY5Lvj
Unbelievable. The FIA literally just gave Red Bull the championship. How can they possibly argue that was a fair race? #FormulaOne— Nico Brice-Bennett (@N_Brice_Bennett) December 12, 2021
So the FIA decided to chnage the F1 rules on the last race. Disgraceful #FormulaOne— Nathi (@nuttynysss) December 12, 2021
Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we’ve just seen.— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) December 12, 2021
Kravitz said: "The feeling at Mercedes is 'hang on, there seems to be an abuse of the rules here. The rules have not been followed - why were only five cars allowed to unlap themselves and then the race restarted?'
"That's the point isn't it. Mercedes think the process was not followed here properly, the way it always has been with lapped cars being able to unlap themselves. Only five were, not the rest of them, and then the race was restarted.
"That's what they don't think was fair."
In response to the events that unfolded, Mercedes tweeted, "There are no words".
There are no words.— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 12, 2021
They have since protested "against the classification established at the end of the competition" in relation to the alleged breach of the rules.
BREAKING: Mercedes have protested "against the classification established at the end of the Competition", relating to alleged breaches of Articles 48.8 and 48.12 of the FIA Sporting Regulations#AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 #F1 pic.twitter.com/bO6BLN8lv5— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
One appeal was due to Verstappen undertaking under the safety car, while the other relates to the safety car procedure itself - and the ruling that only a certain number of lapped cars were allowed to pass.
Despite finishing second on the podium in contentious fashion, Hamilton remained humble in defeat and gave a mature interview with Sky Sports as well as embracing his opponent.
"Firstly, big congratulations to Max and to his team," Hamilton said.
"But I'm so proud of my own team and we gave it absolutely everything and we never gave up. I've felt great in the car the past couple of months, particularly at the end. We'll see what happens next year."
Hamilton is still just one win away from surpassing Michael Schumacher's championship record and will be looking to get over the line next year.
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