Johnny Herbert calls for drastic F1 changes amid Lewis Hamilton controversy

Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out

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Former F1 driver Johnny Herbert has said events at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix left a “bitter taste” in a scathing attack on FIA officials. Herbert, a Sky Sports F1 pundit, has also called for urgent changes to the sport following the controversy that tainted Max Verstappen’s maiden world championship win. 

Herbert, who raced for seven different teams in an 11-year F1 career, was left angered by the manner in which race director Michael Masi appeared to panic and speed-up the safety car procedure in order ensure one final lap of racing.

Not only did Masi’s orders represent a u-turn on his original instructions to drivers when the safety vehicle came out, but they also directly contradicted a precedent he seemingly set at the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix in Germany.

His actions undoubtedly played into the hands of Red Bull, with Verstappen having pitted as soon as the vehicle came out, and then being allowed to get on Lewis Hamilton’s tail ahead of a final lap duo.

The British driver, who had led the race by 11 seconds before Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed to spark the late chaos, was always going to be up against it on worn tyres, and Verstappen duly overhauled him to take the chequered flag.

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Herbert, 57, did stress that he felt Verstappen was a deserving champion and that neither he or Hamilton were to blame for what transpired, but said the race had left him with a “bitter taste.”

“Lewis had done absolutely nothing wrong, Red Bull had made the right calls on the strategy. Then it just seemed unfair that Lewis lost it when he had no chance of a fight,” he wrote for the next issue of Motor Sport, which will be available later in December.

“So what should have happened? The track was clear, but there wasn’t time to let the unlapped cars past. They should have been released to race with the five unlapped cars remaining in between Hamilton and Verstappen.

“That way it could have been a two-lap shootout, with Max having to pass those cars before he got to Lewis. That’s more racy than giving Max such an advantage.

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“What we’ve had this year has been very positive for F1 because it has got people talking about it again, which hasn’t been the case for a long time. We didn’t need the last lap to make it exciting.”

Herbert also said that the incident “should never have happened and it should never again,” and called for prompt reviews into the rules around Grand Prix races.

On Wednesday night, the FIA did release a statement on the controversy, saying there had been a “misunderstanding” that was “tarnishing” Verstappen’s title win.

“The circumstances surrounding the use of the Safety Car following the incident of driver Nicholas Latifi, and the related communications between the FIA Race Direction team and the Formula 1 teams, have notably generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans,” the statement read.

“An argument that is currently tarnishing the image of the Championship and the due celebration of the first Drivers’ World Championship title won by Max Verstappen and the eighth consecutive Constructors’ World Championship title won by Mercedes.”

The authority have now promised to meet with all teams to clarify guidelines ahead of the 2022 campaign.

“This matter will be discussed and addressed with all the teams and drivers to draw any lessons from this situation and clarity to be provided to the participants, media, and fans about the current regulations to preserve the competitive nature of our sport while ensuring the safety of the drivers and officials,” they added.

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