Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Max Verstappen crowned 2021 F1 champion after pulsating finale

Red Bull driver wins world championship after drama in the final lap at Yas Marina Circuit

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Max Verstappen became world champion for the first time with a thrilling and controversial last gasp victory in Abu Dhabi.

But he earned it amid controversial and chaotic scenes to deprive rival Lewis Hamilton a record eighth world title. And soon after the finish Mercedes lodged a protest with stewards.

Williams ace Nicolas Latifi crashed five laps from home and that took a nine month, 22 race, four continent bitter battle down to a dramatic last lap scrap after the rubble was cleared.

And the young Dutchman roared past the seven-time champion with a daring manoeuvre on Turn 5 on his fresher rubber. But Hamilton did not give up. He even drew alongside Verstappen on the back straight.

Verstappen would not be denied, though, as he stormed over the finish line to become the first Dutch champion.

The race finished with Red Bull boss Christian Horner in tears.

“Max you are a world champion. You have been a world champion all year,” he shouted over team radio.

And furious Mercedes cried foul. “No Michael, no Michael that was so not right,” screamed Mercedes boss Toto Wolff on the radio to the sport’s beleaguered race director Michael Masi.

Wolff demanded the result be taken on a countback of a lap before the finish — which would hand victory to Hamilton.

“Toto it’s called motor racing, OK. We went car racing,” replied Masi, coolly.

A topsy turvy championship was heading Hamilton’s way until the Latifi crash.

Stewards decided that lapped cars would not be allowed to unlap themselves because they would have gone over the finish line behind the safety car.

And what kind of finish would that have been for a season for the ages such as this? Instead stewards bought it down a one lap dash.

But Verstappen had gambled on a stop for fresh rubber and they had the edge going to the final dual — but talent as well as tyres counted in the end.

Controversy, though, is sure to rage because only five cars were allowed to unlap themselves and they rest restarted in a chaotic fashion out of position. The lawyers could have a field day.

It was a remarkable result but some are bound to claim Hamilton was robbed.

“Finally a bit of luck for me,” said Verstappen. “I must say a big thankyou to Checo [teammate Sergio Perez) driving his heart out for me. I ended the race with massive cramp in my right leg. Insane moments.”

Perez had held up Hamilton in mid-race just when he appeared to running away with it.

Hamilton was dignified in defeat as he and dad, Anthony, shook hands with the Verstappen duo.

“Congratulations to Max and his team, he did an amazing job this year,” said Hamilton who did not appear to be suffering the anger his team demonstrated.

“It’s been the most difficult of seasons and I am so proud of my team. We gave it everything and I never gave up.”

Hamilton cemented his name in the sport’s history yet again but unfortunately not on the giant silver champion’s trophy.

But it hadn’t seemed that way at the very start. The Mercedes ace got the jump on title rival Max Verstappen at the very start and from then on Red Bull were always up against it.

Chase and harry as they might in the desert darkness Red Bull Verstappen just never had enough to deal with the speeding 36-year-old.

But, as you might expect, Verstappen never gave up. And some would say that the result is even tainted. It was certainly swirling in controversy.

After such a dramatic season it was clear that drama would not be long in coming.

Especially after the duo have collided twice at the previous race and crashed off entirely twice earlier in the season.

And it wasn’t. It took just seven corners.

Verstappen carried out his trademark lunge down the inside, Hamilton swerved to avoid him, cut across the chicane and sped away, still in the lead.

“He has to give that place back,” shouted Verstappen on the radio. “He pushed me off track,” shouted Hamilton.

But an even more amazing move came next. Stewards instantly announced and investigation and then told stunned Red Bull they would be taking no action.

“Unbelievable,” said Verstappen when he was told. “We are a little bit shocked. We are not best pleased. But what can we do,” said Horner from the pit wall.

Mercedes insisted there was foul play. “It was a lunge pushed Lewis off the track. They only didn’t touch because Lewis gave him space and was forced off the track,” they told stewards.

And again the spotlight shone on dubious refereeing in the world’s fastest sport.

Verstappen went unpunished with a similar situation at Turn 4 in Brazil and then was punished when he went off with Hamilton at the last round in Saudi Arabia.

He complained that both drivers had gone off in Jeddah but he was the only one who was punished.

In the pit stop Red Bull told Perez told to hold up Hamilton. “That’s some dangerous driving,” moaned Hamilton on the radio after their two lap duel.

It took him until lap 21 to shake off the Mexican. “Checo is a legend,” shouts Verstappen on the radio as he pulled up behind Hamilton. “Absolute animal,” replied his engineer.

By the 21st lap Hamilton had eked out his lead to 3.7 seconds and such was the pace that just half way through the race the duo were a staggering 21 seconds clear of the entire field.

But Hamilton expressed his worries as he looked ahead to the remaining 30 laps and radioed: “That’s a long way for these tyres to last.”

But it was Verstappen who was the first to stop when he dived in on lap 37.

Then a Virtual Safety Car period was called and Verstappen was left with 21 seconds to make up over the remaining 20 laps

Toto Wolff radioed desperately: “Michael please no safety car, interferes with the race.”

But needing a second a lap the difference looked even beyond the mighty Verstappen.

“Bit of a risk leaving me out no?” said Hamilton to his team. “The potential to lose track position was too high,” was his team’s answer.

With 19 laps left and pondering if they could make Hamilton said: ” I won’t be able to keep this pace the whole way.”

Horner admitted on the team pit wall it would need a miracle for Verstappen to become champion.

And a few laps later he got just that with Latifi’s crash. “Is he right behind me?” said Hamilton. He was, but not for long. Soon after the chaotic re-start he was past and holding the giant silver trophy.

Updated: December 13, 2021, 5:52 AM
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