It was a race for the history books, with controversial decisions and a season long rivalry providing the back drop to a nail-biting final lap around the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Lewis Hamilton, the seven time world champion, led from the start with his young Dutch rival Max Verstappen following closely behind. Hamilton, managing a long stint on medium tyres, seemed to be just a few laps away from snatching the record breaking eighth title, before the Williams of Nicholas Latifi lost grip and spun into the wall, causing a safety car.
With the Williams wreckage cleared, those on the pit wall and watching at home expected to watch the usual process unfold, allowing lapped cars to pass the safety car in order to not interfere with the front runners. Instead, the FIA and race director Michael Masi made the decision to prevent lapped cars from overtaking, before seemingly changing their minds after a heated radio message from Red Bull's Christian Horner.
Verstappen, who pitted for a set of fresh tyres under the safety car, was now in prime position to chase down Hamilton with just one lap remaining. As Verstappen overtook Hamilton and claimed the championship title for himself, the fans in Abu Dhabi were electric, but so was social media. The worldwide popularity of the Netflix series Drive to Survive has seen a massive increase in both those watching and talking about the sport, combine that with one of the most interesting title battles and most anticipated races in years, and social media was always going to be the battleground for fans of either driver.
There were plenty of hot takes, divided opinions and thoughts from the experts, but everyone could agree on one thing; Masi's decision would have a long lasting impact on the sport.
Some fans took the opportunity to make light of the situation.
“Tell them lapped cars are NOT allowed to overtake 🙅🏽♂️”
— Amenyah (@G2Amenyah) December 12, 2021
— Chain Bear (@chainbear) December 12, 2021
Has anyone checked to see if Michael Masi is actually a real person and not a robot controlled by the CEO of Netflix
— Matt Gallagher (@MattP1Gallagher) December 12, 2021
Others though, were frustrated at the scenes unfolding under the lights in Abu Dhabi.
Michael masi and the fia should be ashamed. Giving a driver an unfair advantage in breach of their own rules then saying “tough, I’m the race director” is nothing short of madness. The wrong driver is the world champion today. #AbuDhabiGP #f1
— Steven Murphy (@thesteeveM) December 12, 2021
Contrary to Michael Masi’s beliefs, that was absolutely not motorsport or motor racing. That was a manufactured show.
— lottie ✨ (@Lottieeee) December 12, 2021
my main point, I guess is this:
The stewards will have known their decision would have an effect on the title. So they HAD to apply the rules as written and nothing else. Making up a rule on the fly in such an important moment is a WILD choice#AbuDhabiGP
— Chain Bear (@chainbear) December 12, 2021
Current and former drivers expressed their feelings online and in the media pen as the chaos unfolded, with George Russell, who will be racing for Mercedes in 2022, tweeting that the situation was "unacceptable".
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
"For it to end like that, I'm not so sure."
Lando Norris on the dramatic ending to the Abu Dhabi GP 🗣 pic.twitter.com/i9I5IV9ZDy
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) December 12, 2021
— Manzana Actuary (@Khizzie) December 12, 2021
There were a few drivers in the TV pen after the race (Norris and Ricciardo were two) who admitted they didn't quite know how to feel over the way it finished. They said Max fully deserved the title, but the way the restart was handled confused some #F1 #AbuDhabiGP
— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) December 12, 2021
Despite the controversy, Verstappen will leave Abu Dhabi as a world champion, though with Mercedes protests incoming, the title remains under a cloud for the foreseeable future.
This is just unbelievable. I started racing with my dad many years ago. We dreamed of becoming a World Champion and now we are.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 12, 2021