Lewis Hamilton sits stunned in his Mercedes. The Formula 1 superstar knows what the process is like shortly after a race like this ends. After all, he's done it so many times in his career. Unbuckle your seatbelt, get out of the car and focus forward again. On December 12, a year ago, that's not possible.
Hamilton lost the world title to Max Verstappen in the Red Bull in one of the most memorable and controversial finals in motorsport. Instead of being flooded with happy hormones after the historic eighth triumph, which was almost complete, Hamilton remained almost unconscious in the chassis.
Unconventional safety car procedure
"I had no more strength. I would say that was one of the most difficult moments I've experienced in a long, long time," said Hamilton later, who is now returning here for the season finale on Sunday (2 p.m. / Sky).
That night in the Persian Gulf, the 37-year-old felt cheated. "My worst fears came alive. I figured there was no way they were going to cheat on me," Hamilton told Vanity Fair in an interview. "It's impossible, it's not going to happen, definitely not."
What exactly happened has to do with the then race director Michael Masi. The Australian, who was later fired, interpreted the safety car procedure so idiosyncratically that Verstappen was able to overtake the incredulous Hamilton on the last lap for his first World Championship crowning.
"No, Michael, no, no, Michael, that wasn't right!", Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff called helplessly over the radio at the time. He scratched his head again and again, trotted through the box and was horrified. "We will never get over it, it's not possible," said Wolff after this incredible adrenaline finale.
A lot has happened in Formula 1 since that day in December. From rumors of Hamilton's resignation to legal pressure from Mercedes on the world motorsport association Fia and the subsequent dismissal of Masi to Verstappen's premature second title win.
In São Paulo, Hamilton and Verstappen even collided again at the weekend. The stewards blamed the Dutchman, who later caused a lot of trouble at Red Bull by refusing the team order, for the thoughtless overtaking maneuver and let him serve a five-second penalty. "I think it's natural that when you're successful, you become a bit of a target," said Hamilton evenly. "But that's okay. It's nothing I haven't dealt with before."
He sought comfort in his father's arms
The fact that Hamilton, when asked, once again pointed out that the 2021 final was dirty, leaves Red Bull cold. He "can't understand it at all, the race director has made the decision," said Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko. You can't always "let the topic come up".
But it is Abu Dhabi. 343 days later on race day. And the subject will come up again in a place where Hamilton only found solace in the arms of his father Anthony a year ago.
"He gave me a hug and I think he said something like, 'I want you to know how proud I am of you,'" Hamilton said. "When your father hugs you like that, it's one of the most intimate things."