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Mercedes missed an opportunity to ensure Lewis Hamilton held on to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and a record-breaking eighth title, according to former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Hamilton was denied the drivers’ championship on the last lap of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit when Max Verstappen passed him on fresh tyres during the dramatic closing stages of the race.

The Red Bull driver had benefitted from a late safety car following Nicolas Latifi’s crash, as well as some controversial decisions from race director Michael Masi.

It was pointed out to Ecclestone that Mercedes had potentially missed a trick by not pulling Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas into the pits during the safety car period, thus extending the window in which cars were not allowed to overtake.

Red Bull retired Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez to avoid such a scenario, with the Dutchman handed a final-lap shootout in which he passed Hamilton to win his maiden world title.

“Pretty clever,” Ecclestone told Blick of the loophole that could have won Hamilton the race. “I thought of that too, and it would have been ideal to make sure the safety car stayed out and the race wouldn’t have been restarted.

“Many people would have been upset, but there wouldn’t have been any changes to the final result.”

Hamilton was effectively a sitting duck after five cars were told to unlap themselves by Masi, putting Verstappen behind the seven-time champion on soft tyres ahead of the final lap.

Mercedes protested the race result before withdrawing their appeal three days later.