ABU DHABI: Lewis Hamilton returns to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend 11 months after one of the most grim days in Formula 1 history, and insists he has put the past behind him.
His bid for an unprecedented eighth world drivers’ title at Yas Marina Circuit last December was thwarted by a combination of wrong decisions by race officials, bad luck and the opportunism of Max Verstappen.
As a result, while his Mercedes team triumphed in the constructors’ title race for the eighth consecutive season, he was left to digest the result of a sporting injustice that has been reverberating ever since.
But Hamilton, who will turn 38 in January and whose act of congratulating his Dutch rival in the immediate aftermath of that bitter defeat masked a deep disappointment, remained reticent.
While Red Bull and Verstappen have been blazing in both the teams and drivers championships this year, while Mercedes has struggled to understand and develop a car of tenacious temperament, he has totally become a team man.
A third consecutive second-place finish as team-mate George Russell claimed his maiden Grand Prix victory in Brazil last Sunday was an emotionally significant reward, as ironically Red Bull’s unity was threatened by internal strife.
“I’m here a lot in the moment,” he said, ahead of the season finale this weekend.
“I don’t get here thinking about the past at all, not one thing. I’m focused. I’m not sure if our car will do well here this weekend, but if there’s a chance, we’ll make it.”
And as more unverified allegations on Wednesday fueled a feud between Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, whose heroic defensive run last year helped seal the Dutchman’s victory, the ‘silver arrows’ held a unified position.
“For me, our success in Brazil, last Sunday, is down to the tremendous effort of our UK team’s workforce,” said Hamilton. They’ve been identified like this all year.”
Sunday’s race won’t have the high stakes in 2021, but for Hamilton it represents a final chance to maintain his record of winning at least once in every season of his record-breaking Formula 1 career. He has a record 103 wins to his name, including Five wins at the Yas Marina Circuit as Verstappen has won the last two races, but those stats are not his or Mercedes’ priority.
“Lewis does not need us to give him any priority and he would never want to,” said team principal Toto Wolff.
As has Hamilton and Russell’s praises, Verstappen faces scrutiny after refusing to comply with team orders and assist Perez last Sunday at Interlagos in a manner that drew widespread criticism on social media.
The icy-toned Perez said Verstappen “showed who he really is” while the two-time champion refused to explain his motives. After an emergency meeting, Red Bull said the pair had made up and Verstappen would help Perez this weekend, as he strives for second place in the title race and give Red Bull a one-two season finish.
Verstappen would be chasing a 15th victory in a season, but looked shaky in Brazil as he finished sixth and was blamed on a reckless collision with Hamilton – and Ferrari edged out Red Bull to follow Mercedes home.
In a weekend filled with several crucial encounters, two-time champion Fernando Alonso will try to sign with Prosper Albin, who is hoping to finish fourth in the Constructors’ team, before moving to Aston Martin.
They lead McLaren, who suffered a pointless double retirement in Brazil, by 19 points, so be confident they take the multi-million dollar prize on offer.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, 35, will also say goodbye, not just to Aston Martin, but to Formula 1
He returned to the ring, where he won his first title in 2010.