Max Verstappen snatched the Formula One world championship away from Lewis Hamilton in dramatic fashion on Sunday with a pass on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi GP.
Mercedes filed two protests after the race, which were dismissed more than four hours after the race and Verstappen’s first world championship was upheld.
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Hamilton led 51 of the 58 laps and was only five trips around Yas Marina Circuit away from passing Michael Schumacher in the record books with an eighth championship on Sunday. Then a crash gave Verstappen and Red Bull one final chance.
F1 race director Michael Masi took his time figuring out how to conclude the race before controversially settling on one final lap of racing to decide the title. Verstappen started the final lap just behind Hamilton, chasing him through the first four turns.
A lot of not very happy people. And a lot of very happy people. This is a new way of running the sport where the Race Director can make these ad hoc decisions. Its been a bit too 'guess what I'm going to do now' I think. #f1
— Damon Hill (@HillF1) December 12, 2021
Addressing the controversy, former champion Damon Hill said this was “a new way of running the sport”.
“It’s been a bit too ‘guess what I’m going to do now’, I think.”
Verstappen made his pass on the fifth turn and Hamilton had one last shot. He pulled his Mercedes even with the Red Bull in turn nine but could not clear Verstappen, who surged ahead to become the first Dutch world champion.
“It’s just insane, I mean, my goal when I was little was to become a Formula One driver and to go for wins, to be on the podium,” said Verstappen.
It was a fitting end to a season that saw the two contenders go wheel-to-wheel across 22 races spanning four continents and arrive in Abu Dhabi tied in the championship standings. It marked the first time the contenders were equal at the season finale since 1974.
The two combined for 18 of the victories, with Verstappen winning 10 times – equaling the number of wins scored during his first six seasons in F1. Verstappen led an F1-high 652 of the 1,211 laps this year and scored 18 podium finishes.
But he has been criticised this year for his aggressive driving, with Hamilton himself saying Verstappen was over the edge. The two crashed three times this season and Verstappen was sent to the hospital for evaluation following one incident at Silverstone.
Verstappen repeated that he wanted race control to play no role in the finale, but when Masi did, it went in Verstappen’s favour with the final lap of racing to decide the title.
“I think [the track] was clear, so why would you run it out behind the safety car?” Verstappen said. “When everything is clear, you have to release the track, so I think that’s a fair point from the race director. Of course, now it works for me. But it also works against me, I know that.”
Formula One legend Mario Andretti praised both drivers, congratulating Verstappen on his win and Hamilton for an “epic season”.
What a showdown! I love champions, records and stories that make my heart beat 300 beats a minute! Congratulations World Champion @Max33Verstappen. And to @LewisHamilton for an epic season and a story that surely continues 💪💪💪
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) December 12, 2021
‘Most difficult of seasons’
Meanwhile, Hamilton did not participate in the post-race news conference with Verstappen and third-place finisher Carlos Sainz.
He did one interview before the victory podium and congratulated Verstappen and Red Bull.
Hamilton, who turns 37 next month, won three consecutive races coming into the finale to knock all 19 points off Verstappen’s lead in the standings.
But his eight wins this season are the fewest for Hamilton since 2013, when he only won once and finished fourth in the standings.
He praised the effort of Mercedes.
“It’s been the most difficult of seasons. I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be on the journey with them. We gave it absolutely everything, we never gave up and that’s the most important thing,” Hamilton said.