The 10 Biggest Controversies in Motorsport in 2021

Hamilton and Verstappen face the media

Let’s call a spade a spade … we all love a little bit of controversy, don’t we?

Well, in 2021, motorsport delivered a drama like never before, creating countless moments when it was impossible to look away.

Formula 1, of course, led with a notable title battle between Red Bull / Max Verstappen and Mercedes / Lewis Hamilton (how good will the next edition of Drive to Survive be?) … Globus, as revisited below.

Hamilton versus Verstappen: Part 1

We might as well start here in Silverstone in mid-July, because in a breathtaking half a lap the course of the Formula 1 World Championship would change for good.

After Hamilton and Verstappen had already established themselves as the two main competitors, they fought hard for victory in the first round, with the latter very willingly pulling out his elbows.

Hamilton was desperate to get on, trying to move up inside the fast Copse right-hander.

Hamilton would bail out from a 10-second penalty to take home victory in front of a home crowd … but a battle of words had begun and a rivalry ignited beyond the point of no going back.

Hamilton versus Verstappen: the final

At this point the two had met in Monza at the end of the race, had survived a controversial change of sides in Sao Paulo and were involved in some bizarre clashes in Saudi Arabia.

But that was nothing for the final decision on the championship – and the villain wasn’t exactly one of the title protagonists.

After a tussle in the first lap, from which Hamilton was acquitted, the Mercedes star sailed into the distance to keep his eighth world title firmly in hand.

But a late safety car turned the race on its head, and a decision by race director Michael Masi to only round the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen brought the latter into the box seat.

In fact, Verstappen made a crucial move on the final lap while Hamilton remained “disaffected”. Mercedes’ original appeal was denied and after they expressed plans to continue the matter they decided against a decision in the courtroom.

Outsider Viñales. Image:

Viñales, Yamaha split

This was not an ordinary driver change in the off-season.

Relations between the enigmatic Maverick Viñales and the Yamaha MotoGP factory team had clearly deteriorated, with results deteriorating dramatically as teammate Fabio Quartararo starred.

But a breakup was accelerated when Monster Energy Yamaha announced the Spaniard’s suspension on suspicion that he tried to blow up his engine at the end of the Styrian Grand Prix.

He would no longer drive for the Iwata brand and just days later it was confirmed that he is tied to Aprilia.

Gen3 secrecy is boiling over

Fortunately, Gen3’s handling on supercars has improved massively in the past six months, but earlier in the year it wasn’t that rosy.

The project’s unusual secrecy has put the pit lane at risk as several team bosses claimed they were unaware of the new car, which was due to hit the market in early 2022.

The widespread outrage culminated in a crisis meeting in May to get everyone on the same page, with participants being pledged to absolute secrecy.

This proved to be a tipping point that resulted in the project being postponed to mid-2022 and eventually early 2023.

Cameron Waters

Dirt gate

It didn’t take long for old enemies Triple Eight Race Engineering and Tickford Racing to renew hostilities.

An early argument broke out between Shane van Gisbergen and Cameron Waters when the latter was accused of deliberately dragging dirt onto the Mount Panorama track during his top 10 shootout at the Supercars season opener.

Although an official complaint is known to have actually been filed by a separate team, Triple Eight, through team manager Mark Dutton, were the ones who appeared publicly accusing Waters of “intentional act” that could pose “serious risk”.

Waters denied any wrongdoing, but the wheels were set in motion in a tasty rivalry.

Hamlin confronts Bowman on the line

Denny Hamlin certainly didn’t take it well that his play-off chances in the NASCAR Cup Series were jeopardized by Alex Bowman.

Hamlin was thrown from the lead in the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville Speedway.

While still sneaking through to Championship 4 to prevail in Phoenix, Hamlin made known his feelings after the race and drove his # 11 Toyota towards Bowman in a scene that threatened to get ugly.


Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen at SMP3. Image: Mark Horsburgh

Whincup versus SVG

Ironically, the wildest moment on the 2021 Supercars Championship track was delivered by Triple Eight teammates Whincup and van Gisbergen.

As his full-time career began to tick, Whincup had apparently had enough of playing the nice guy.

The seven-time champion refused to give in to the # 97 as they were both chasing rookie front runner Will Brown, and pushed Van Gisbergen wide at least twice to make it clear he wouldn’t step aside this time – although he did ordered by team manager Dutton.

The defiance didn’t pay off as Brown held on to victory, but it was definitely a great race.

Tensions seemed to calm down quickly as Whincup prepares to become van Gisbergen’s new boss in 2022.

The battle for a Mercedes seat is getting ugly

As has been the case for some time, the tussle between Valtteri Bottas and George Russell over Hamilton’s future F1 teammate at Mercedes was no secret.

At the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the crowd intensified when the two collided at high speed.

But more was to come; It initially looked like Russell had jumped out of his Williams to check on Bottas, but it soon became clear that the intent was to berate Finn – complete with a slightly aggressive knock on the helmet.

Russell finally apologized after being punished a few times by Mercedes supremo Toto Wolff.

Chaz Mostert and Nick Percat will be teammates next year. Image: Ross Gibb

Heimgartner, Percat drop silly seasonal bombs

In a quick week, the driver market for 2022 supercars would go up in flames.

It had looked relatively easy until it suddenly became clear that Andre Heimgartner and Kelly Grove Racing would unexpectedly split up at the end of the season.

Brad Jones Racing immediately became his expected goal – something that soon made more sense when Nick Percat announced he wasn’t going to stay with Albury after all.

In total there will be 11 new driver / team combinations in the full-time starting field next year.

Reynolds pushed out of SMP

After days of rumors that spread like wildfire in the paddock of the supercars, the confirmation came that David Reynolds would be marginalized for reasons of the COVID-19 vaccination exemption.

So many different stories have been told that it’s hard to tell 100 percent the truth about what exactly happened, but it balanced Reynolds’ short and long-term futures.

In the end, the 2017 Bathurst 1000 winner only missed two events and was back in action in a sodden Sydney Motorsport Park, where he put his # 26 Mustang on the second row of the grid.

Honorable Mention: Kiwi youngster Liam Lawson was devastated after a controversial DTM finale in which he was effectively eliminated and then lost the title when Mercedes brought Maximilian Goetz to the top with team orders.