24-year-old becomes first Dutchman to clinch world championship as Lewis Hamilton is denied record eight title
By Yuri Coghe
13 years ago, Lewis Hamilton conquered his first Formula 1 world championship in the last lap of the final race of the season. On Sunday in Abu Dhabi, the Briton superstar saw the other side of the coin.
Max Verstappen emerged victorious at the Yas Marina Circuit after overtaking Hamilton on lap 58 of 58 to fulfill his long promise to join the illustrious list of F1 drivers’ championship winners.
At 24-years-old, the Red Bull driver becomes the first Dutchman to clinch the world championship by giving his team the first driver’s title since Sebastian Vettel’s last of four consecutive honours in 2013. He finished the season with 395.5 points, eight more than Hamilton.
Verstappen debuted in F1 in 2015 for Red Bull’s satellite team Toro Rosso, being promoted to the A-team during the following season to replace lacklustre Daniil Kvyat. He proceeded to grab his first of 20 victories so far in his very first race for the Austrian team, becoming the youngest ever F1 race winner at 18 years and 228 days old.
Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi caused a safety car to be deployed late in the race that pretty much decided the outcome of the season.
The series of events initiated by Latifi’s crash ended with a one-lap ‘drag race’ between Verstappen, with fresh soft tires, right behind Hamiton, who was unable to keep his position, racing with 30+ old hard tires.
The stewards’ decision to let all five backmarkers between the rivals go through Hamilton to put Verstappen right behind the Briton – but not the other lapped cars in the grid as the rules dictate, in a move that would need more time and see the race end under the safety car, will leave Mercedes’ supporters feeling like an unfair decision was made.
But so would the Red Bull fans if the race had been restarted with those five cars between the contenders with just one lap to go, or if the race ended under the safety car.
In the end, the incredibly lucky for Verstappen and unexpected end to the Abu Dhabi GP surely delivered in entertainment, and arguments could be made both ways regarding the pure sport side of things.
Mercedes has launched an official protest against the result of the race.
It also can be said that the German’s team decision not to pit Hamilton under the safety car for fresh tires was just as detrimental to him losing out on the championship.
Granted, the Briton would have lost track position had he come in and Verstappen, with that in mind, had stayed out. It just adds to the variables and the ‘what if’ factor, which doesn’t come into play in motorsport – or in sport in general, for that matter.
In 2008, Hamilton overtook German driver Timo Glock of Toyota in the very last lap to finish fifth in Brazil.
It was just where he needed to be to clinch his first championship, taking the honour away from home driver Felipe Massa of Ferrari, who won that race.
Honda leaves on top
Red Bull’s engine supplier, Honda, is leaving Formula 1 with a driver’s championship after coming back to the series in 2015.
In total, the Japanese outfit has six drivers’ (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2021) and six constructors championships (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991).
A season for the history books
The 2021 season was, surely, way more than the key decisions by the race director or by the Mercedes team to not pit Hamilton.
Verstappen won 10 of the 22 races this season – two more than Hamilton, adding eight second places for a record 18-podium appearances in the same season. He also had nine pole positions in a tremendous title charge that put his talent on display throughout the year.
“It’s insane. I don’t know what to say,” Verstappen said in the post-race interview. “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 knows I love them and I want to do this with them for the next 10 or 15 years.”
Hamilton, on the other side, has been denied a record eight drivers’ championship that would move him one ahead of fellow racing legend Michael Schumacher.
The Briton also finished as the runner-up in his debut season in 2007 and in 2016, when he lost out to teammate Nico Rosberg in the final race in Abu Dhabi too.
“Firstly, big congratulations to Max and to his team,” Hamilton said. “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.”
Mercedes took the series by storm as the hybrid era was introduced in 2014, with Hamilton capturing six of the now eight seasons since. The streak-ending 2021 immediately joins F1 history as one of the best championships ever.
The Brackley-based team still clinched a record eight-consecutive constructors’ championship that tastes very much bittersweet with 613.5 points, 28 more than Red Bull.
Rest of the top 10
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished third to round out the podium and clinch the fifth place in the drivers’ championship. The Spaniard finished as the “best of the rest”, then, coming right after both Mercedes and both Red Bulls in the standings in his first season with Ferrari.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, in his last race as a rookie, claimed his season-high result to come fourth, with his teammate Pierre Gasly following in fifth.
Valtteri Bottas, in his final race as a Mercedes driver following a five-year stint with the outfit, couldn’t do much to help in Hamilton’s title fight and finished sixth, just where he started the race.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez did help Verstappen, going long in his first stint and giving Hamilton a hard time when fighting for P1 on lap 20 and 21. The Mexican driver would go on to finish third but had to retire at the end with car issues.
Alpine finished the season on a high note with both their drivers in the top 10 as Fernando Alonso was eighth and Esteban Ocon was ninth. Lando Norris, on P7, and Charles Leclerc, on P10, rounded out the points zone.
Now retired 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen did not finish his final F1 race due to car issues. His Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, leaving the series to race in Formula E in 2022 having been replaced by the Italian team, also couldn’t complete the race for the same reason.
Mercedes-bound George Russell, who also had car problems and retired, took to Twitter to voice his upset with how the race ended.
The Alfa Romeo duo of Sebastian Vettel and Canadian Lance Stroll finished in eleventh and 13th, respectively.
Daniel Ricciardo (P11) and Mick Schumacher (P14) were the other drivers to finish the race.
Haas’ Nikita Mazepin did not race due to a positive COVID-19 test.
See the full Abu Dhabi GP results below: