A storm is brewing as F1 heads to Abu Dhabi

Ferrari demanding reparation to Carlos Sainz's damaged car while drivers want tougher sanctions for those who blatantly flout the rules

Red Bull's Max Verstappen on his way to winning his 18th race of the 2023 season at the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Sunday. AFP
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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is still seething over the infamous world championship title defeat in 2021 that would have made Lewis Hamilton the most successful Formula One driver of all time.

Wolff was speaking in Las Vegas where Max Verstappen won his 18th race of the season as F1 prepares to return to Yas Marina Circuit and the scene of one of the sport’s most notorious episodes two years ago.

The Austrian said he is still determined to put the record straight and give his star racer the record eighth title he believes he was robbed of in the controversy.

Hamilton lost the championship showdown due to a re-start bungling that ultimately cost race director Michael Masi his job.

“I have a personal anger and drive to make Lewis win the eighth title because he should have had it,” Wolff told The Mail Online.

“As a team principal, it is important to be fair and open with both drivers. But there is a big part of us that will always want to be a part of that story in undoing and overcoming 2021.”

Mercedes reportedly threatened to quit the sport in fury.

But now the sport’s law makers, the FIA, face renewed pressure on several fronts over the way the sport is governed.

Drivers want tougher rules and stricter governance while Ferrari is looking for reparation of $2 million for a crash in Las Vegas Grand Prix that wasn’t their fault.

Emirati Mohammed ben Sulayem, the FIA president, has an enormous personal stake in events as F1 comes to his home town for Sunday’s season finale amid swirling controversy.

Some drivers are pushing for tougher penalties on those who deliberately flout the rules.

Red Bull's triple world champion Verstappen was yet again in the eye of the storm on Sunday. Rivals said his five-second first corner penalty for forcing Ferrari's Charles Leclerc off the track at the first corner was meaningless when he had a car so much faster than the rest.

While the much-heralded race on the Las Vegas strip Strip lived up to the enormous hype on raceday it was not before a misfiring start when a loose manhole cover wrecked Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari in Friday's first practice.

Sucked out of the ground at 180mph it caused $2m of damage and changes that meant a 10-place grid penalty ruining his race as badly as his car. There was no mechanism for Ferrari to escape punishment despite being blameless as ruthless rivals threatened a court challenge.

Even Verstappen joined the clamour for Ben Sulayem to step in and close a loophole that is clearly unfair.

"So, first of all, that needs to change and these things can be taken into consideration that you can take a free penalty,” said Verstappen.

And he called on the FIA to flex its judicial muscle and elbow the teams out of the decision-making process when they have vested interests.

“It's very harsh on Carlos but in this political environment, of course every team thinks about themselves and they are going to say 'no, he has to take the penalty'.”

Ferrari, the sport’s most powerful and famous team, are busy behind the scenes to recover the giant repair bill from the organisers or governing body.

So fuming Sainz is looking to Sunday’s Abu Dhabi finale to finish a rollercoaster season in style, especially with an extra $30 million in prize money to be earned if Ferrari beat Mercedes to runners-up spot in the constructors' championship.

“I’m looking forward to going to Abu Dhabi and trying to beat Mercedes and finish on a high fighting for a podium. That’s the number one target. It’s not going to be easy but we have all the tools to go for it,” he said.

After nearly eight months of racing and 21 grands prix on five continents just four points separate the two F1 behemoths.

Behind them, despite an inspired start to the season under veteran double champion Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin lead McLaren in the battle for fourth by just 11 points.

While Verstappen, architect of Hamilton’s pain in 2021, looks to round off the most dominant season in the sport’s history with a record 19th win of the year and one that will edge him past four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to a 54th victory overall, trailing just two men; Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 8:18 AM