Carlos Sainz has admitted his respect for Lewis Hamilton has increased over the winter, after the Spaniard had a first-person view of how the Mercedes driver struggled to keep his composure on the podium in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2021.
Hamilton had dominated the majority of the race and was set to wrap up a record-breaking eighth world title when a late Safety Car gave Max Verstappen the chance to change tyres and latch onto the back of Hamilton.
With FIA Race Director Michael Masi controversially clearing lapped cars out of the way before withdrawing the Safety Car with a lap remaining, Verstappen was able to attack and pass Hamilton on the final lap. Within sight of the chequered flag, the title swung away from Hamilton and into Verstappen's grasp.
Sainz finished in third place and said it was visible from standing alongside Hamilton on the podium that the British driver came to grips with the enormity of his loss during the ceremony.
Sainz: "I respect Hamilton more than ever"
With Hamilton managing a brief TV interview before the podium, and congratulating Verstappen, Sainz was empathetic toward his counterpart as he could see him struggling while standing on the rostrum.
"Losing the title on the last lap like that is really hard to accept," Sainz told Italian publication Corriere dello Sport.
"I respect him more than ever for the way he managed to behave. We had a few words on the podium and he was really struggling."
Asked how he would have felt in Hamilton's shoes, Sainz said he would have found it very difficult to keep his composure.
"[I would have felt] very bad," he went on to comment.
"I was surprised at how he avoided [breaking down] at the end of the race."
Sainz confident in FIA procedure
The FIA launched a prompt investigation into the events of the Abu Dhabi GP, with the findings of the investigation to be presented to the F1 Commission on Monday 14 February. The report is due to be released publicly on 18 March after a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council.
Sainz compared the situation to that of football, and said it is critical F1 makes moves to ensure constant tension and controversy does not become the norm.
"We need to avoid repeating the same mistakes," he added.
"Every football match generates controversy. We need to prevent F1 from approaching that kind of tension. But I don't think the situation is disastrous; I'm convinced it is improving."
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