In a season-long championship battle for the ages between a legend and a prominent star each representing two powerhouse organizations, a one-lap shootout on fresh tyres handed Max Verstappen his maiden Formula One World Championship after the Dutchman overtook and fended off Sir Lewis Hamilton to win both the title and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday, December 12.
The 24-year-old Verstappen commenced the 2021 F1 weekend finale by claiming the pole position over Hamilton on Saturday. At the start, however, Hamilton powered his Mercedes to the front on medium tyres. Then in Turn 6, Verstappen made a bold move beneath Hamilton and forced Hamilton off the course, though Hamilton came back on the course to retain the lead. Despite protests being launched from Red Bull Racing over Hamilton’s off-course venture, the stewards allowed Hamilton to continue as the leader.
From Laps 15 to 20 of 58, where both Hamilton and Verstappen pitted, Sergio “Checo” Perez, the second Red Bull Racing competitor, was leading ahead of Hamilton with the Mexican veteran receiving orders to fend off Hamilton. By Lap 21, however, Hamilton reassumed the lead following an intense battle with Perez.
With less than 10 laps remaining, Hamilton was still leading, but racing on worn tyres. By then, Verstappen, who last pitted on Lap 36, was trying to cut Hamilton’s huge deficit and navigate his way through lapped traffic.
Then an opportunity struck with five laps remaining when Nicholas Latifi wrecked his Williams Racing car in Turn 14. Under the safety car caution period, Hamilton remained on the track while Verstappen pitted. As the laps dwindled and the safety car remained on the track, the FIA and stewards instructed for five lapped cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake them and the safety car to cycle back on the lead lap, which left Hamilton and Verstappen running nose to tail of one another for a one-lap shootout to the finish. The decision was one that left Mercedes, including team principal Toto Wolff, unhappy with the call.
At the start, Hamilton retained the lead, but Verstappen kept him within his sights. Then in Turn 5, Verstappen made a bold move beneath Hamilton to take the lead. Despite receiving two opportunities to regain the lead, Hamilton could not keep pace with Verstappen’s Red Bull machine as the Dutchman was able to navigate his way around the circuit for a final time and streak across the finish line to claim the race victory and the championship to the delight of his team and nation.
With the victory, Verstappen, who notched his 10th Grand Prix victory of 2021 and the 20th of his career, became the 34th different competitor to achieve a Formula One World Championship and he became the first Dutchman to win an F1 title. By beating Hamilton by eight points, he delivered the first drivers’ championship for Red Bull Racing since 2013 as Red Bull claimed its fifth championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” Verstappen said. “Throughout the whole race, I kept fighting and then of course, that last opportunity on the last lap, it’s incredible. I’m still having a cramp. It’s insane. I don’t know what to say. These guys right here, my team and of course, Honda, they deserve it. I love them so much and I really, really enjoy working with them already since 2016, but this year has been incredible. To my team, I think they know I love them and I hope we can do this for 10, 15 years together. There’s no reason to change ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life…Our goal was to win this championship and now, we have done that.”
“It’s just insane,” Verstappen added. “My goal when I was little was to become a Formula One driver. When they play the national anthem, you one day hope they play yours and then when you stand here and then they tell you that you’re the World Champion, it’s something incredible. Especially my dad, the special moment we had here, all the things come back to your mind, throughout all the years where you spent together traveling for that goal, and then you are here together, everything comes together in the last lap. Insane, these people. My whole team, my family, my friends, my best family friends, the people I grew up with go-karting, the ones who pushed me to where I am today, most of them were here. It just sounds amazing. It’s incredible to see all this [Netherlands] orange here, but all over the world where they supported me throughout my whole career and especially in Formula One, it’s just incredible and I hope I can do this for a very long time with the support of my great fans. Throughout the whole race, I just tried to keep on pushing, tried to keep on believing in it even though it didn’t look like it and in some times, miracles happen. Lewis [Hamilton] is an amazing driver, an amazing competitor. He made it really, really hard for us and everyone loved to see it. We had some tough times, but I think that’s all part of this sport and its emotion. Everyone wants to win. It could’ve gone either way today, but next year, we’ll come back and try it all over again.”
Hamilton, who dominated the finale and was on track in winning a record-setting eighth F1 title prior to the late restart, settled in second place for the eighth time on the track in 2021 and in the runner-up position in the standings, which marked his first title loss since losing to former teammate Nico Rosburg in 2016. With Hamilton’s runner-up result and to go along with Valtteri Bottas finishing in sixth place on the track, Mercedes were able to claim an eighth consecutive Constructors’ title by 28 points over Red Bull Racing Honda.
“Firstly, a big congratulations to Max and to his team,” Hamilton said. “I think we did an amazing job this year. My team, everybody back at the factory, all the men and women we have at here worked so hard this whole year. It’s been the most difficult of seasons. I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be a part of the journey with them. We gave it everything. This last part of the season, we gave it absolutely everything. We never gave up. That’s the most important thing. We’ll see about next year.”
Following the finale, Mercedes launched two protests to the FIA over the decision to conclude the finale with a one-lap shootout while also alleging that Verstappen overtook Hamilton during the final safety car period and prior to the shootout. Following an extensive review amid the controversy, where members of Mercedes and Red Bull met, the protests were dismissed and Verstappen’s championship was retained.
Finishing behind the two championship contenders on the track was Carlos Sainz, who achieved his fourth podium result of the season and capped off his first season with Ferrari in a career-best fifth place in the drivers’ standings. With teammate Charles Leclerc finishing 10th on the track, Ferrari capped off the 2021 F1 season in third place in the constructors’ standings over the McLaren F1 Team.
“Especially the ending has been particularly great for me,” Sainz said. “With my best race in Ferrari putting together everything I’ve learned through the year, to put together a strong race today with the start, the race management, with a podium, that gets me also P5 in the Drivers’ championship. It all came together. It was a very challenging [season], especially because the lack of testing, so I had no idea how quickly I was gonna adopt. At Bahrain, I saw that I was pretty quick and I said, ‘OK, I’m gonna be there.’ I know I’m quick. I know that when I have the car to my liking, I have the speed to do whatever it takes to be quick in Formula One. The first part of the year was challenging, adapting to two different things of the car that I didn’t fully understand. The last third, I put together everything to put some good qualifyings and some good race finishes.”
Rookie Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri rallied from an up-and-down rookie season in F1 to notch a career-best fourth place on the track ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly and Bottas, who capped off his fifth and final season with Mercedes in third place in the drivers’ standings. Lando Norris, who wrapped up his junior season in F1 competition and with McLaren in a career-best sixth place in the drivers’ standings, finished seventh on the track followed by Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon while Leclerc rounded out the top 10 on the track.
Finishing outside of the top-10 points-paying results on the track was Sebastian Vettel, who concluded his first season with the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team in 12th place in the driver’s standings. Daniel Ricciardo followed pursuit along with Lance Stroll and rookie Mick Schumacher.
Sergio “Checo” Perez, who was in late contention for a podium result, ended his race in 15th place after retiring prior to the one-lap shootout. Despite the result, Perez capped off his first season with Red Bull Racing in fourth place in the final drivers’ standings along with five podiums and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory in June.
Latifi, following his late accident, retired in 16th place while teammate George Russell retired in 18th place and in his final event with Williams Racing due to a transmission issue.
Antonio Giovinazzi concluded his final event with Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen in 17th place on the track after retiring on Lap 36 due to a gearbox issue. Ten laps earlier, teammate Kimi Räikkönen retired in 19th place, dead last, after spinning in Turn 6 due to a braking issue on Lap 26. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marked Räikkönen’s 349th and final career start in Formula One with the 2007 champion stepping away from F1 competition.
Nikita Mazepin, one of two Uralkali Haas F1 competitors, did not compete after testing positive for COVID-19 hours to the finale.
1. Max Verstappen, one lap led
2. Lewis Hamilton, 51 laps led
3. Carlos Sainz
4. Yuki Tsunoda
5. Pierre Gasly
6. Valtteri Bottas
7. Lando Norris
8. Fernando Alonso
9. Esteban Ocon
10. Charles Leclerc
11. Sebastian Vettel
12. Daniel Ricciardo, +1 lap
13. Lance Stroll, +1 lap
14. Mick Schumacher, +1 lap
15. Sergio Perez – Retired, six laps led
16. Nicholas Latifi – Retired
17. Antonio Giovinazzi – Retired
18. George Russell – Retired
19. Kimi Räikkönen – Retired
Final Driver Standings
1. Max Verstappen
2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Valtteri Bottas
4. Sergio Perez
5. Carlos Sainz
6. Lando Norris
7. Charles Leclerc
8. Daniel Ricciardo
9. Pierre Gasly
10. Fernando Alonso
11. Esteban Ocon
12. Sebastian Vettel
13. Lance Stroll
14. Yuki Tsunoda
15. George Russell
16. Kimi Räikkönen
17. Nicholas Latifi
18. Antonio Giovinazzi
19. Mick Schumacher
20. Robert Kubica
21. Nikita Mazepin
Final Constructor Standings
2. Red Bull Racing Honda
5. Alpine Renault
6. AlphaTauri Honda
7. Aston Martin Mercedes
8. Williams Mercedes
9. Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari
The Formula One teams and competitors enter an off-season period before returning to action at Bahrain International Circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, March 20, to commence the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship season.