This feature on Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 4 discusses the ending and the Abu Dhabi F1 finale, so it will contain spoilers.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 12, 2021. I remember being in a state of perpetual shock when the last lap unfolded. At first, it looked like Michael Masi (now the former Racing Director of the sport) had applied the rules correctly. There was recognition that by the time the wreckage of Nicholas Latifi’s car was cleared, there was not enough time to deal with lapped cars to unlap themselves under the safety car. Hence why Michael Masi decided to restart the race (if possible) “as is.” Alternatively, the Racing Director could have issued a red flag, but it was not a red flag situation. The only option was to follow the sport’s rules, like any officially recognized and regulated sport.
Unfortunately for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, most of the race (dominated by Lewis Hamilton) had been completed, and the safety car came too late. In normal circumstances, and with what we’ve seen in all races in the past, the race ends anti-climatically under a safety car. Fortunately for Red Bull and Max Verstappen, Michael Masi decided to create a new scenario that did not exist in the sport’s rules, and he allowed only the lapped cars between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton to overtake the safety car.
As the ending of Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 4 states, this manipulation only served as a beneficiary to Max Verstappen. It did not benefit Lewis Hamilton or the other drivers. Red Bull, the Racing Director, and the stewards knew that Lewis Hamilton was on used hard tires, while Max Verstappen was on fresh softs. They knew the race would either end under the safety car or with Max a few cars behind with one lap remaining. At this moment, the Racing Director and the sport chose entertainment over sporting integrity. Alas, the highly talented and young driver Max Verstappen won his first championship.
There’s no doubt that Max Verstappen is a generational driver. And with the release of season 4 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive, there has been this notion of “deserving champion.” But the last lap at Abu Dhabi was never about whether Max won a championship that day or how talented he was. As a sports fan, an employee of a sporting governing organization, pundit, and athlete, sporting integrity is the most fundamental element of any sport. It ensures that when the participants partake in the sport, they do so in the fairest way possible. Sure, luck can come into it, but with luck, you know that on the sidelines, there are officiators who apply the regulations in a black and white manner. It’s respect for the participants that their hard work pays off. If they are the best, and they deliver, they win. That’s sport.
But what’s evident in the ending of Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 4 is that a mentality had been fostered by Team Principal Christian Horner and the Red Bull team. There were many instances throughout the season where Horner communicates how tired he is of Mercedes winning championships. He continuously references “seven years,” highlighting their dominance. Christian Horner cuts a frustrated and aggressive figure through Season 4. It always feels personal, not professional.
It’s interesting because Horner is a man who always cites rules and regulations. He’s known for it, so much, so that social media regularly call him “Karen Horner.” However, at the end of Season 4, he has no interest that the race that had been manipulated. He again references that a Mercedes driver has won it in the last seven years. For Red Bull and Christian Horner, the last race was never about rules, which is why they got in the ear of the Race Director and asked him to change the rules. It was the driver’s championship over sporting integrity. It was a “whatever it takes” mentality. Formula 1: Drive to Survive does not put the Red Bull team in a good light at all. If anything, it shows how desperate they were to win regardless of what it means for the sport around the world.
And then, it would be useless to analyze that last episode of Season 4 without discussing entertainment. It’s a fair point that sport must be entertaining, especially if it’s popular in masses. But let’s be very clear — the 2021 Formula 1 season was already entertaining. It had already written its headline — two drivers, level on points in the final race. The legend versus the young gun. What an extraordinary, unprecedented season. The race did not need manipulation to be entertaining. It had won new fans and had old fans falling in love with the sport again, way before Michael Masi’s horrendous decision.
The last episode of Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 4 proves that the decisions made in that final race did not work. The series did not hail Max Verstappen as a rightful champion. The fact that a Netflix series that has always wanted to foster the greatness of the sport does not support the decisions in that final race says absolutely everything.
Red Bull, the FIA, and Formula 1 failed not only the fans but also Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. What started as a season of drama between two great drivers ended with one last sour story that was preventable and inexcusable. Formula 1: Drive to Survive proved its value by highlighting the truth.
What did you think of the ending of Formula 1: Drive to Survive season 4 and the events at Abu Dhabi? Comment below.