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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 48: F1 Finale Thoughts

Today’s question: What are your lingering thoughts about the dramatic season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last Sunday, when Max Verstappen passed rival Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to win his first Formula One World Championship?

Curt Cavin: It’s difficult to feel bad for a driver with seven world championships and a gazillion dollars, but throughout the second half of the race I kept fearing the possibility of Lewis Hamilton, who had the dominant car, getting caught out by the cautions, and he finally did. Yes, he twice could have come to pit road for new tires, as Max Verstappen did, but in both cases Verstappen’s team was going to do the opposite of what Mercedes did, and Hamilton certainly couldn’t give up the lead that close to the finish. So, as often happens in motorsports, it was a choice between new tires or track position, and in this case the former proved to be the winning call. (I remember Ryan Hunter-Reay winning INDYCAR’s 2015 race at Iowa Speedway that way.) Now, did Race Control handle it properly? That certainly will be debated within the paddock for years to come, but the decision was great for the show, and it’s likely everyone in the sport will eventually benefit from it.

Zach Horrall: What an incredible finish! I was nervous. I was excited. I was on the edge of my seat. My heart was racing. As a race fan, what more could you ask for? That was truly a “Game Seven” moment that you dream of witnessing as a sports fan. It’s very rare that you have such an iconic lap that you can say, “I remember where I was when X lap happened.” The only other one that comes to mind is remembering where you were on Lap 200 of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Sure, we’ll debate until the end of time whether the rules were adjusted on the fly or sidestepped in the name of excitement, and guess what? I don’t care if they were. It WAS exciting! And guess what else? It’s Wednesday, and we’re still talking about the finish. In my book, it’s never a bad thing when your event is still being talked about three days later. I hope all forms of racing, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and NASCAR included, take a more exciting approach in the future.

Paul Kelly: The buzz of the end of the race finally is subsiding for me, but the conflicts and bewilderment in my mind are not. F1 always has been seen as the series that sticks to its rulebook like Super Glue, penalizing drivers for seemingly trivial offenses or the slightest contact. Did the sport cross a new Rubicon in the name of Netflix-inspired entertainment when Race Director Michael Masi seemingly wrote new rules on the fly to create a more exciting finish? That remains to be seen. But fans around the world would have been dismayed if Masi followed the rulebook and ordered all of the lapped cars to pass the Safety Car and queue at the end of the line, which would have ended the race with Lewis Hamilton winning his eighth World Championship behind a Safety Car. Nobody wanted to see one of the most closely fought title battles in recent years end behind flashing yellow lights on an Aston Martin cruising at double-digit speeds. But it did seem quite arbitrary for Masi to allow the five lapped cars between the leading Hamilton and second-place Verstappen to unlap themselves before the one-lap shootout, putting Verstappen and his far-fresher soft tires right next to Hamilton and his aging medium-compound tires for the restart. Sir Lewis had no chance in that scenario, so you feel for Mercedes. But remember and credit Red Bull for doing everything right with strategy and pit stop calls in the second half of the race to capitalize if a miracle occurred. Red Bull got that miracle and pounced. So, yes, I’m still ambivalent – a rarity for me – about how the finish transpired. Maybe Masi should have called a red flag and parked the field while marshals cleaned the scene of Nicholas Latifi’s accident. But that would have given Hamilton an unfair advantage and neutered Red Bull’s superior strategy calls because F1 teams are allowed to change tires on cars during red flags, something not allowed in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES or NASCAR. That rule must be changed immediately. Races are suspended during red flags, and teams shouldn’t be allowed to improve their chances when a race is paused.

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