GPR Awards – 2021 Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Following on from a series of ever-increasing follies from the Red Bull camp, it looked like Lewis Hamilton was going to take the championship at the death. However, a spectre in the form of Michael Masi and race control instead dropped the title right into the lap of Max Verstappen, with a controversial move that only only added to the pile of controversies that the 2021 Formula One season saw.

With the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix having concluded, we can take a deep breath and talk about the final throes of rejectdom in this blessed and cursed season.

For the second race in a row, the joint ineptitude of everyone in charge of Formula 1 wins the Reject of the Race award!

If there was one thing Formula 1 fans could be sure of upon switching off their TVs after Sunday’s race, it was that Michael Masi hasn’t learned a thing. The season finale ended in a farce to end all farces, with rules being swapped in and out for convenience: whatever would help The Show™ that Liberty Media seemed so desiring to deliver this season.

Did you catch the season finale of The Show™?

After all, the season has been exciting and close and all those other wonderful descriptors that make a classic year. The unnecessary addition of gimmicks, tinkering and all-round favouritism has done nothing to aid the excitement of this championship, except to draw a huge amount of ire toward the FIA, or more specifically their chosen fall-guy, Michael Masi.

Masi, being faced with a safety car finish at the season finale, decided that it would not do at all, and pulled out all the stops to artificially create as much drama as possible to decide the championship. What we got after Nicholas Latifi’s fateful crash was a rushed fix-job from the marshals, the removal of all cars that stood between the championship contenders – ignoring his own precedent set last year at the Nurburgring – and an absolute last-minute restarting of the race going into the final lap. Max, having pitted at the start of the safety car period, overtook Hamilton, who had dominated the race up until that point, on the final lap to win the race and the championship.

This exciting and unforgettable season has ended on a terribly dour note, and it is all thanks to the collective brains of the organisers, who have sacrificed the dignity and perceived respectability of their sport for the Netflixisation of it instead. Any and all possible drama has been blown out of proportion, and every natural occurrence of on-track racing has been artificially pre-planned in a media lab to draw the best stats, to get the most retweets, and to contribute to The Show™.

The Grand Prix Rejects community shall not stand for such artificiality. The 2021 season has been exhausting in length, and the unrestrained fiddling of Masi, Race Control, and every crony in the FIA, has been seen in all its transparency. Everyone who organised this farce – and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was simply the latest culmination of it – takes Reject of the Race at the season finale.

Photo: Steve Etherington

And thus, one of the most exciting seasons ended at a revamped Yas Marina in a seemingly farcical way for everyone involved. Photo: Steve Etherington

Getting on to, surprisingly, the actual racing, the otherwise dull affair was livened up by some classic, real reject candidates. Alfa Romeo and Williams, in a fight-to-the-death battle for P8 in the constructors championship, did each other a favour by posting double retirements instead. Latifi, after all, was fighting with Mick Schumacher in a Haas on Sunday, and running behind the German. Had Nikita Mazepin not contracted COVID-19 before the race started, they may have suffered the ignominy of being stuck behind him too. Alfa Romeo’s drivers are now with all certainty not returning for 2022, and both ended their Formula 1 careers with technical faults. Kimi couldn’t retire quick enough, while his team-mate’s career ends anonymously, starting as it meant to go on.

Yuki Tsunoda unrejectifies himself and winds up as Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race to boot!

A driver much maligned on this website and by this author, Yuki Tsunoda had been hitting rock bottom at some point late in this season. While his qualifying performances improved in the last couple of grands prix, his race-craft still left something to be desired. However, by finally outqualifying his teammate Pierre Gasly for the first time, he got out of the rut he has found himself in and drove a speedy set of stints to jump all the way up to 4th!

Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Tsunoda’s best drive of the season? Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Not content with a great drive to 5th before the much-maligned late safety car, he powered past Valtteri Bottas on the last lap (meaning that Mercedes lost three places in the last minute, not one, as Bottas was also overtaken by Gasly) to be within a few seconds of the podium. It was a rare, truly positive moment in the season for Yuki. He is the only rookie this year to unrejectify himself, and the sheer unexpectedness of his performance and his result makes him a natural Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race winner.

Elsewhere we had the heroics of Sergio Pérez. The Mexican turned out to be Red Bull’s MVP when he held up Hamilton in a fair but brutal defence that lost the outgoing champion around seven seconds of time to his title rival. Another driver with a patchy record this season, Checo showed his worth as a teammate, and the domino effect meant that he prevented Hamilton from developing the necessary gap for a pitstop, which Verstappen took to his advantage. The rest, as they say, is history.

Carlos Sainz Jr was on the podium for the fourth time in 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Going into this season, Sainz’s move to Ferrari left many people wondering if he had made a good move for his career, given the Scuderia’s annus horribilis in 2020 and the fact he was getting partnered with the ever-talented Charles Leclerc. instead, Ferrari proved very competent, took third place from Carlos’ old team McLaren, and the Spaniard even finished the season ahead of his illustrious Monégasque teammate. It was out of the spotlight, but crucial for him and the team to take that third place on Sunday, and it has raised his already-high stock in the F1 community.

Finally, a parting word about Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time world champion was half a lap from an eighth title, before having it cruelly taken from him by a mess of dirty decision-making from our Reject of the Race. However, he took the defeat with surprisingly good grace, and ended the day as the better man – a stark contrast to the showboating and abrasiveness of the Red Bull bosses. It was a surprising turn of humility for Lewis, and echoed in more ways than one the way Felipe Massa handled his own heart-breaking title loss to the Brit 13 years ago – curiously, also on the final lap.

Full Results

REJECT OF THE RACE INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE
The FIA, Michael Masi, Race Control, and Liberty Media 25 (86%) Yuki Tsunoda 17 (68%)
Alfa Romeo 3 (10%) Sergio Pérez 5 (20%)
Williams 1 (3%) Carlos Sainz Jr. 3 (12%)
 Lewis Hamilton 0 (0%)
Number of votes: 29 Number of votes: 25

Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.

The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.

The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.

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