Max Verstappen won his first Formula One title at the weekend, but there still isn’t a single photograph of him holding the world championship trophy.
It remains one of the most curious aspects of F1 that the champion does not get his prize the moment he wins the title, which sets the series apart from the majority of other sporting competitions. The trophy sat between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton during their media obligations in Abu Dhabi and again on the grid as they posed for a stare-down ahead of the race, but was conspicuously absent after the race.
The trophy will be handed to Verstappen at an FIA Gala on Thursday.
While this practice seems unusual, the events of Sunday evening in Abu Dhabi highlighted the main reason it exists. The official explanation the FIA gives is that at this stage of the season there could still be protests lodged by rival teams that affect the outcome of the championship.
As we saw on Sunday, Mercedes protested the result and it remains unclear whether the team will pursue a further appeal over how the final laps of the race unfolded.
While the above is true, it seems inconsistent with other trophy presentations in F1. For example, the same argument isn’t applied to the presentation of podium trophies immediately after each race and before the official result has been set.
A good example was the Hungarian Grand Prix this year, where Sebastian Vettel celebrated with his trophy for finishing second, only to be disqualified from the race several hours later. That meant, for the second time in his career, Carlos Sainz scored a podium without actually standing on it or being presented with his trophy live on TV — the same happened at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix. It seems strange the rules would be different for individual prizes and the most prestigious trophy in the series.
Even with the technicality of a protest taking place, there must surely be a way for F1 and the FIA to make the trophy is a bigger part of the celebrations. ESPN understands the topic is a contentious one within F1 at the moment, with plenty within the organisation believing more could be done to make it one of the iconic trophies in sport. At the moment it seems to be far from that; it featured in none of the post-race pictures of Verstappen on Sunday and does not even have its own Wikipedia page. In fact, the trophy Verstappen was holding in a lot of pictures that made the front page was the comparatively small winners’ trophy for the Abu Dhabi GP.
It’s fair to argue a lot F1 fans would not be able to identify the world championship trophy if asked. It’s a shame, too, because it’s a beauty. A towering silver jug with gold lining, featuring the name of every champion dating back to the inaugural championship in 1950. While some of the most famous moments in other sporting events feature championship trophies — Michael Jordan clutching his first NBA championship in his arms, John Elway finally lifting the Lombardi trophy, Bobby Moore hoisting the Jules Rimet trophy in the air while sat on the shoulders of his England teammates in 1966 — the only ones you can find of F1 champions holding theirs is in a sterile environment, while wearing a suit.
F1 has broken down a lot of barriers to new audiences in recent years but this seems to be one holdover from the past that is in desperate need of a rethink.