Broadcaster Sky Sports has been forced to pull a ‘disrespectful’ TV advert which wished F1 fans a “Merry Christmas” while showing footage of Max Verstappen’s shocking crash at the British Grand Prix earlier this season.
Red Bull racer Verstappen and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton are gearing up for a thrilling finale this weekend as they head into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on points.
The build-up to the race has been tense with challenger Verstappen accused of reckless driving last time round in Saudi Arabia, where Hamilton took the checkered flag to move onto 369.5 points alongside the Dutchman.
The pair have clashed frequently throughout their title battle this season – including at Silverstone back in July, when a collision resulted in Verstappen plowing into the trackside barriers.
The Dutchman reportedly lost consciousness in the impact and was airlifted to hospital for precautionary checks before being cleared.
Predictably, there was outrage among some F1 fans when Sky Sports used the incident in an advert aired during a practice session at Abu Dhabi on Friday.
After a slow-motion reply of the crash, a “Merry Christmas” message appeared on screen, making clear Sky’s loyalties to British star Hamilton as he seeks to win a record eighth world title.
— D (@dazalexf1) December 10, 2021
“Who thought of this? Who edited this? Who approved of this? This is so disrespectful to use a crash as a Christmas greeting,” tweeted one angry fan who shared the ad.
Red Bull officials are said to have complained to the broadcaster, which pulled the ad from its coverage.
“A 51G crash where the driver was airlifted to hospital being used as a Merry Christmas message is very poor taste indeed,” a team spokesperson told Racing News 365.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has already accused rivals Mercedes of waging a smear campaign against the 24-year-old Verstappen in a bid to portray him as a reckless racer and face more scrutiny from stewards.
“Of course it’s been a concerted campaign by Mercedes. Totally,” said Horner.
“It’s been part of a narrative to put as much pressure on the stewards to act differently from any other race.
“This is a campaign that’s been driven covertly to put the spotlight on Max, give him a tag-line, portray him as this mad, irresponsible driver, put as much pressure as you can on him, on the team, and ultimately on the governing body.
“We saw in Brazil, the comments about the penalties being laughable, or Lewis being persecuted. Mercedes have got one of the smartest media arms in the paddock and they use every tool they can.”
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 11, 2021
In the event that neither Hamilton nor Verstappen finishes Sunday’s grand finale at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit, it would be the Dutchman who claims a maiden championship as he has won more races throughout the season.
Perhaps in anticipation of some heated racing, governing body the FIA has emphasized that rules are in place for points to be deducted from drivers in the event of “unsportsmanlike” racing or actions which are “contrary to sporting ethics.”
“I think with all the controversies we had in the last few races, it is very good that the FIA have come out with a reminder of what the ISC [international sporting code] stands for,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 11, 2021
Hamilton, 36, is targeting a fifth world title in a row and an unprecedented eighth overall, which would move him ahead of German legend Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time list.