Max Verstappen claimed his maiden world crown in Abu Dhabi, overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to take the race win and title.
Arguably the most historic season in the history of the sport ended in yet more controversy and drama as a late safety car was the deciding factor in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Regardless of whatever happened in the final race of the season, after such a long gruelling season, whoever was destined to take the crown would ultimately deserve it.
Max Verstappen World Champion
He had to do it the hard way in the curtain closing race, after a disastrous start. Despite having the advantage of soft tyres and pole position, Hamilton on the medium tyres got a dream start to jump the Red Bull. He reacted in 0.25 seconds on the line compared to the 0.35 of Verstappen.
A few corners later, Verstappen took a trademark aggressive lunge on Hamilton who took avoiding action off track and kept the lead. He slowed down to not gain advantage off track so there was no need to let Verstappen by and avoided a penalty.
Sergio Perez Importance
After Hamilton and Verstappen made their pit stop, Perez stayed out. He defended resolutely to Hamilton, bringing the Dutchman back to a second behind Hamilton from eight seconds. Despite the role from his teammate, Verstappen couldn’t capitalise as Hamilton pulled away again.
Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell had already retired, but then Giovinazzi followed suit. The Italian pulled up in a dangerous area to cause a virtual safety car. This was a dream for Red Bull who brought Verstappen in for a second pit stop. Being in the lead you couldn’t gamble on that, unfortunately for Hamilton and Mercedes.
Despite the fresh tyres, Verstappen couldn’t close up quick enough to Hamilton to cause a problem until there was more drama.
With just five laps remaining, Verstappen was still struggling around 10 seconds off the race leader. Then Nicholas Latifi crashed, causing a safety car which ended with a lap of racing at the end.
Again, in second place, Red Bull held all the aces, bringing Verstappen in for soft tyres under the safety car. He obviously caught back up to Hamilton before the end of the safety car where Michael Masi changed procedure.
FIA Give Verstappen a Gift?
As Nico Rosberg eluded to post-race, the regulations state that under a safety car, all backmarkers are required to pass it. If that happens then it leaves no time to resume racing and Lewis Hamilton is World Champion. Masi changed his mind to allow the lapped card between the two protagonists through early. With the free stop to soft tyres, it basically all but handed Verstappen the title.
Hamilton tried his best to hold on to the lead and championship on the final lap, but fresher, soft tyres vs old hard tyres left only one winner, Hamilton was a sitting duck.
Only the 5 lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were allowed to overtake the safety car
Make of that what you will
— Matt Gallagher (@MattyWTF1) December 12, 2021
Mercedes Silver Lining
Despite missing out on the Drivers’ Crown in heart breaking fashion, Mercedes made it eight Constructors’ titles in a row. A fitting end for Valtteri Bottas, the ‘best team mate,’ who leaves the team with five crowns in five years.
Toto Wolff and his team will be proud of the achievement I’m sure. It just might take some time for the scars to heal from that final lap drama for them to truly appreciate their achievement. It’s expected they will be appealing the decision and classification…
Max Verstappen World Champion – Driver Reaction
Max Verstappen couldn’t hide his elation: “It’s insane. I don’t know what to say. I’m so pleased for the team and for all these guys. I love working with them so much. Finally today I had a bit of luck. My team know I love them and I want to do this with them for the next 10 or 15 years!”
Lewis Hamilton was gracious in defeat as ever: “Firstly, big congratulations to Max and to his team. But I’m so proud of my own team and we gave it absolutely everything. I’ve felt great in the car the last couple of months. We’ll see what happens next year.”
TOP 10 FINISHERS: ABU DHABI 👀
A hugely dramatic final race of 2021 😮
And it finishes with @Max33Verstappen as world champion! 🏆#AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 #F1 pic.twitter.com/NZB0rqzkAQ
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images