F1 Safety Car driver Bernd Mayländer has recalled how he felt after the end of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
An epic 2021 campaign and title duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton ended in controversial circumstances as a botched Safety Car restart from then Race Director Michael Masi paved the way for the Dutchman to take the title on the very final lap of the Grand Prix.
To this day, there is still sore feeling around the subject and that may not subside for some time, with Hamilton coming agonisingly close to making history and winning an eighth world crown.
Amid all the drama back on that December evening in the Middle East, Mayländer was the one driving around at the front of the field after Nicholas Latifi had crashed into the wall with just a handful of laps to go, and he must have known the situation that was unfolding behind him.
Indeed, once he was called in, Verstappen had a clean run at Hamilton and duly took the victory in the very final stages of the race, and the German has since recalled how he felt that night when speaking to AMuS.
Bernd Mayländer’s reaction to Abu Dhabi 2021
“[Lewis] did a great job, and everything was actually good. And then suddenly there was a bang, and I knew precisely: okay, at that location, this kind of accident, this must be a safety car phase. And then I knew, okay, now there’s another situation.
“And then I thought: good, this is over. That would have happened even without sorting the cars in between. Then Max would have done the overtaking manoeuvre two corners later. They [the backmarkers] would have been given the blue flag for overtaking.
“Afterwards, I took a step back and did some soul-searching. In the following days, I hoped that no journalists would call me. I didn’t switch off my mobile phone, but I didn’t answer some of the numbers because I knew I’ll get a question like that.
“I just wanted to decide for myself. Do I like it or not, as it was? A few days later, I said, no, everything was actually fine the way it happened. Both teams deserved to be champions. Max was clearly the lucky one in the end, and the team did a great job throughout the year. As did the others, of course. But the last bit of luck was missing for Lewis. That’s just the way it is in sports.
“We have to remember that we are talking about sport. I am a sportsman and can live with such a situation. But of course, I have to find the right way. I don’t care who wins the race on Sunday; the main thing is that we see a great sport out there.
“And the sport has improved steadily over the last few years and has become even better. And that’s what appeals to me. In the job, you’re part of it. You can’t influence anything, but you can change a situation in the blink of an eye with a safety car phase, which brings either luck or bad luck. But, well: safety first.”
“It was on the last lap when we came in, so I knew I didn’t need to return to my parking position, where I usually am. I went straight into the parc fermé then, where I typically arrive last under normal conditions, but then I arrived first.
“I then hid a little bit on the side of the car, as I usually do, got out and went to the hospitality with my helmet on. I went through the hospitality and sat down at the back of the harbour and didn’t even see the finish. I just had to think about everything that had just happened. And it was clear that Max had overtaken; I could hear from the noise that a lot had happened on the track.
“And well, ‘that’s racing’, so I found my way. You can look at the situation or the decision one way or the other. There has already been a lot of discussion about it. I can live with the decision the way it ultimately turned out. For me, both were worthy world champions. Only on that day Max had more luck, or a lot more luck, on his side. The bottom line: all is well.”