Formula One: Hamilton 'lost a little bit of faith' after F1 title heartbreak

Red Bull's Max Verstappen (right) celebrates winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the world championship, in December 2021, as Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton looks on after finishing second. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton says he "lost a little bit of faith" in Formula One after the traumatic end to his 2021 world championship campaign but vowed not to let the setback define his career.

The British driver was poised to capture a record-breaking eighth world title in December's season finale in Abu Dhabi before a controversial safety car restart allowed Max Verstappen to pass him on the final lap.

The 37-year-old was disillusioned following his defeat at Yas Marina and at one stage it was unclear whether he would return to the grid.

Michael Masi was removed as F1 race director on Thursday after his controversial role in orchestrating the one-lap showdown for the title.

Speaking on Friday (Feb 18) at the launch of the Mercedes car for the 2022 season, Hamilton said he asks himself every year if he has the desire it takes to become a world champion.

"That is a normal mental process for me, but this year was compounded by a significant factor about a sport I have loved my whole life," he said, addressing the media for the first time since the agony of his defeat.

"There was a moment where I lost a little bit of faith. I put faith and trust alongside each other and trust can be lost in a blink of an eye or a flick of a finger.

"But I am a determined person and I like to think to myself that while moments like this might define other people's careers, I will refuse to let it define mine."

The FIA has also announced an overhaul of race control, while its inquiry into the final laps in Abu Dhabi is ongoing.

Hamilton said he was pleased that the governing body was taking steps to improve procedures, adding: "We have to use this moment to make sure this never happens to anybody else in this sport ever again."

Attack pledge

The British driver revealed he had not revisited the race, adding that he did not blame Dutch rival Verstappen for what happened.

"It was obviously a difficult time for me," he said. "I just unplugged and switched off. It took time to digest what happened and it is still difficult to fully understand everything.

"But eventually I got to a point where I decided I was going to be attacking again coming into another season."

The Mercedes team unveil their car for the 2022 season. PHOTO: TWITTER/MERCEDES

Mercedes lodged, and then dropped, their appeal against the result of the race in a reported quid pro quo agreement that Masi would be removed by the FIA.

But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: "Dropping the appeal being linked to anyone leaving the FIA is not true.

"The restructuring at the FIA regarding how decisions are being made was necessary. Last year was a great season but it created a lot of polarisation with decisions that were not always easy to understand."

Masi, who will be offered a new position within the FIA, found himself in the line of fire after calling in the safety car for the final lap and controversially allowing the backmarkers between race leader Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves.

That led to a one lap shoot-out between Hamilton and Verstappen, who with fresh tyres had a huge advantage and he exploited it to stunning effect when he picked Hamilton off to seal the title.

Mercedes have reverted from black - used for the past two seasons in the fight against racism - to their traditional silver colours for the new campaign.

Hamilton and his new team-mate, fellow British driver George Russell, will be in action at next week's first test in Barcelona ahead of the new season, which starts in Bahrain on March 20.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.