FIA President hails ‘lucky’ Max Verstappen and snaps at Lewis Hamilton rule-break question

Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out

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FIA President Jean Todt has lavished praise on Max Verstappen despite his ‘lucky’ world title win. Todt, 75, will see his 10-year tenure come to an end this week, and on Thursday night attended the F1 end-of-season prize gala in Paris, where the Red Bull driver was being presented with his championship trophy.

However, since the Dutchman’s triumph, the FIA has been in the firing line following Sunday’s controversial finish to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which saw Verstappen take the chequered flag after a chaotic safety car procedure.

Hamilton had haled a comfortable 11-second lead over his rival in the closing stages, when Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barriers, prompting the safety vehicle to come out.

It allowed Red Bull to call Verstappen into the pits, a move which appeared futile when race director Michael Masi ordered that unlapped cars could not pass the safety vehicle until it left the track.

However, under pressure from Christian Horner, Masi then appeared to drastically change his mind, opting to speed up the procedure which allowed Verstappen to get on the tail of the leader before racing was cleared to restart for the final lap.

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On fresher tyres, Verstappen seared past the Mercedes man to take victory, but the outome caused fury amongst F1 fans – with Masi facing calls to resign after being accused of manufacturing the finish.

Speaking at the gala however, Todt argued that the newly crowned champion deserved his success.

“I think he gets what he deserves, he made a great season,” said Todt.

“I mean it’s human. You focus on the last lap. It is true he was really lucky on the last lap. But you should see the whole season.

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“Was he lucky in Silverstone? Was he lucky in Azerbaijan? Was he lucky in Budapest? He was not.”

At Silverstone, Verstappen collided with Hamilton in an incident which ended his race, but although the latter was deemed responsible, he recovered from a 10-second penalty to win his home Grand Prix.

Along with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, the seven-time world champion opted to boycott the event in Paris, with Wolff saying the pair were still “disillusioned” at what transpired at the Yas Marina.

Hamilton’s absence is technically a breach of FIA regulations, with the top three drivers in the standings mandated to attend the event, but Todt was irritated when asked if the authority would be following through with disciplinary action

“Tonight we should celebrate rather than trying to [get involved] in any form of controversy, there’s no point,” he said.

“Then, this young guy [Verstappen] has made an outstanding job, that’s what we should [talk about] rather than saying ‘are we going to punish [Hamilton] because he’s not coming’, honestly, I don’t think that’s the platform to speak, we should be above that.”

Todt will be replaced as President by Graham Stoker.

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