Mercedes boss hopes ‘robbed’ Lewis Hamilton will continue racing
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Williams driver Nicholas Latifi has released a statement after receiving abuse on social media following his crash in Abu Dhabi with five laps remaining of the race. The incident brought out the safety car which led to one of the most controversial ends to a Formula One season of all-time as Max Verstappen was crowned champion.
With five laps to go of the race and Lewis Hamilton currently lead, Latifi smashed his Williams into the wall in Abu Dhabi bringing out the safety car, neutralising the entire field, and cutting the seven-time world champions lead over his main title rival Verstappen in second.
As the lap ticked down behind the safety car as the Williams was removed from the track, the drama started unfolding with a handful of laps remaining.
At this point, lapped cars are normally allowed to pass the leaders and un-lap themselves so they don’t directly interfere with the leading cars, or in other instances, no cars are allowed to un-lap themselves at all.
But the FIA race director Michal Masi made an unprecedented decision to allow the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to un-lap themselves before the race started, but didn’t allow the entire field to do the same before getting racing back underway.
As per rules, the Red Bull driver dove into the pits to put on a fresh pair of soft tyres to give him the best chance of catching Hamilton.
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On fresher tyres, the one-lap dash to the finish line was always going to favour Verstappen who overtook Hamilton, who had decided not to pit, and went on to win the race, and therefore the title.
Mercedes were left fuming at the decision and immediately lodged an appeal that was thrown out by race stewards, before ultimately deciding not to further pursue action.
Red Bull were elated however after winning their first title since 2013, with boss Christian Horner afterwards joking that he had to thank Latifi.
But the Canadian was inundated with abuse online after the race, as Formula One fans took aim at the man who brought out the safety car.
Latifi broke his silence on Twitter and wrote: “A lot has been made of the situation that came about after my retirement in Abu Dhabi. I’ve received thousands of messages to my social media accounts – publicly and via DMs. Most have been supportive, but there’s been a lot of hate and abuse too.
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“I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to go about handling this. Do I ignore it and carry on? Or do I address it and tackle the bigger issue that is sadly a reality when you use social media?
“This isn’t some scripted statement but rather me speaking my mind in the hope that this maybe sparks another conversation about online bullying and the drastic consequences it can have on people.
“Using social media as a channel to attack somebody with messages of hate, abuse and threats of violence is shocking – and something I am calling out.”
“The ensuing hate, abuse and threats on social media were not really a surprise to me as it’s just the stark reality of the world we live in right now. I’m no stranger to being talked about negatively online.
“I think every sportsperson who competes on the world stage knows they’re under extreme scrutiny and this comes with the territory sometimes.
“But as we’ve seen time and time again, across all different sports, it only takes one incident at the wrong time to have things completely blown out of proportion and bring out the worst in people who are so-called ‘fans’ of the sport.
“What shocked me was the extreme tone of the hate, abuse, and even the death threats I received.
“Reflecting on what happened during the race, there was really only one group of people I needed to apologise to for the DNF: my team. I did that right afterwards. Everything else that followed was out of my control.”
“People will have their opinions and that’s fine. Having a thick skin is a huge part of being an athlete especially when you are constantly in a position to be scrutinised.
“But many of the comments I received last week crossed the line into something far more extreme. It concerns me how somebody else might react if this same level of abuse was ever directed at them.
“No one should let the activities of a vocal minority dictate who they are. Events in the last week have made me see how important it is to work together to stop this kind of thing from happening and to support those on the receiving end.
“I realise I’m unlikely to convince those who acted in this way towards me to change their ways – and they may even try to use this message against me – but it’s right to call out this kind of behaviour and stay silent.”
“Sport is by its very nature competitive but it should bring people together not drive them apart. If sharing my thoughts and highlighting the need for action helps just one person, then it was worth it.
“As we look forward to the New Year I truly hope my experiences after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix help reinforce that message. And my New Year’s resolution is to look at ways I can support that process. Just be kind everyone!”
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