The 24-year-old lion of the 2021 Formula One world championship has secured his very first victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The anticipation for the race was at an all-time high after the Saudi Arabian GP where Hamilton finished first and with the fastest lap ensuring that he and Verstappen: the two championship contenders, came into Abu Dhabi with 369,5 points each. This was therefore the deciding race, and the high-drama season had one final plot twist.
Max started on pole after a fantastic flying lap during qualifying but Hamilton had a much better start and quickly put himself in front of the Dutchman. Just a few corners after, Verstappen challenged Hamilton in turn seven but Hamilton went off-track, cut the corner and came out in front. Red Bull was fuming but according to the stewards, Hamilton slowed down enough to give back his advantage and no investigation is deemed necessary.
In the meantime, Hamilton built an ever-increasing gap over Verstappen who’s soft tires were slowly giving up on him leading him to pit on lap 14. Hamilton promptly followed and came out 11.513s behind Perez, who hadn’t been pitted in order to keep Hamilton at bay.
After the gap is closed Perez became the teammate of the century by making it really difficult for Hamilton to pass him and therefore allowing the gap with Verstappen to go from over six seconds to 1.241s!
While Hamilton stretched that gap again, Kimi Raikkonen crashed and a yellow flag ensued, a virtual safety car quickly followed after Giovinazzi spins off the track. This allowed Christian Horner to bring his drivers in for a second pit stop.
Once the track was clear in lap 38, Verstappen worked his way to close the now 17.614s gap with Hamilton. However, it seemed that his tires were quickly degrading and he was now struggling to find the pace to close a 13-second gap before the end of the race.
But! Just a few laps after Horner admitted that it would take a miracle to win the race, his prayers were answered: Nicholas Latifi (Horner thanked Latifi in his post-race interviews) crashed in corner 14 after bumping into Mick Schumacher and a safety car was triggered. Verstappen took yet another opportunity to pit to get on softs but much to the dismay of Red Bull, the FIA decided that lapped cars will not be able to overtake.
In a deciding and controversial decision: the FIA let only the lapped cars that are between Verstappen and Hamilton unlap themselves, allowing Verstappen to be right behind Hamilton’s tail on the restart, which ultimately secured him the championship bypassing his opponent in the very last lap of the race!
While Dutch fans are understandably over-the-moon, many others have a lot of questions about the regularity of this race. This season, in general, has been punctuated by many controversies which have built a profound rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull, and this last race might have been the last drop for Mercedes.
While Max seemed to have the championship in his pocket during the first half of the season, Hamilton and the Mercedes team did a fantastic recovery during the last stretch of the season. In particular, it did seem that the Mercedes car was the better one and that Hamilton was bound to win as Max couldn’t catch him. Many therefore believe that Verstappen was handed the championship win on a silver platter by the FIA.
In fact, following Toto Wolf’s discontent, Mercedes contested the results on the basis that the rules and protocols of racing were not followed. However, the appeal has been rejected by the stewards.
George Rusell, who is meant to become Lewis’ teammate next year wrote on Twitter: “Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we’ve just seen./ THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!!!!”. It is clear that many are very unhappy with the way the FIA handled the race.
One thing is for sure: whether you are a Hamilton or a Verstappen fan, you cannot deny that this season has been the most exciting one in a very long time. It has essentially managed to put F1 back on the map as a sport worth watching. The rivalry between the two champions will be higher than ever next year and the fans cannot wait to see what the teams have in store for the 2022 season. In the meantime, they will be able to relive the emotions of this season thanks to Netflix’s upcoming season of Drive to Survive.