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Mercedes drop appeal but cry ‘theft’

Lewis Hamilton may never get over the pain of being “robbed” of a record eighth Formula One world title, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has said in comments that cast doubt over the driver’s future in the sport.

The Austrian, speaking to reporters for the first time since Sunday’s race in Abu Dhabi and after Mercedes had dropped their plans to appeal, said he and Hamilton would not be attending the governing FIA’s gala awards in Paris on Thursday.

Attendance is mandatory for the top three drivers, with Mercedes also winning the constructors’ title for an eighth year in a row.

Hamilton finished runner-up to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after the Dutch driver overtook him on the last lap at Yas Marina, benefiting from a sudden change to the safety car procedure.

“It’s going to take a long time for us to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don’t think we will ever come over it, that’s not possible,” said Wolff.

“And certainly not him (Hamilton) as a driver. I would very much hope the two of us and the rest of the team can work through the events.

“But he will never overcome the pain and the distress that was caused on Sunday.”

Asked whether Hamilton, who turns 37 in January, would be back next year, Wolff indicated that was not a certainty.

“I would very much hope Lewis continues racing because he is the greatest driver of all-time,” he said.

“As a racer, his heart will say, ‘I need to continue’ because he’s at the peak of his game.

“But we have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday. He is a man with clear values.”

Wolff said Mercedes technical head James Allison would be in Paris to collect the trophy.

“I won’t be there because of my loyalty to Lewis and because of my own personal integrity,” he said.

Mercedes said they had withdrawn their appeal following “constructive dialogue” with governing body FIA with regard to establishing clarity for future scenarios.

Hamilton had appeared to be charging to glory at Yas Marina, easily holding Verstappen at bay in the closing laps only for a crash for the Williams of Nicholas Latifi to change the course of events.

Confusion reigned as under-fire Australian race director Michael Masi changed his mind to allow lapped cars to pass the safety car – meaning Verstappen had a clear run at Hamilton in the final lap and, on much faster tyres, made his move to claim a first F1 title.

Wolff stepped up his criticism on Thursday, insisting: “It wasn’t just a bad call, it was a freestyle reading of the rules and it left Lewis like a sitting duck.

“The decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of this race have robbed Lewis Hamilton of a deserved world championship.

“His driving in the last four races was faultless. He had a commanding lead on Sunday in Abu Dhabi from the get-go.

“He won the start and never gave the lead away again, and robbing him in the last lap of the race is unacceptable.

“We believe we had a very strong case and if you looked at it from the legal side how it would have been judged in a regular court it is almost guaranteed that we would have won.

“But the problem with the FIA is the way it’s structured. The FIA can’t really mark their own homework, and there is a difference between being right and obtaining justice.”

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