Formula 1’s wonderkid, Max Verstappen, is the 2021 world champion, overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Let that sink in.
And it came in a race you will never, ever forget.
Nicholas Latifi crashed on lap 54 of 58.
Race control deployed the safety car, and Hamilton’s 14-second lead, and an almost certain eighth world title, evaporated in an instant.
Verstappen and Red Bull pounced at the opportunity and pitted for soft tyres.
Initially, the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were not allowed to overtake the erstwhile leader.
The FIA changed their mind on the penultimate lap, just before the race was restarted, and those five cars were allowed past.
It orchestrated a last-lap showdown between the two title contenders, and Verstappen didn’t let his sole chance of winning the championship go to waste.
A wily, premeditated lunge at the turn five hairpin gave Verstappen the lead, and he wouldn’t relinquish it back.
Verstappen only led half of a lap all race.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “All race, I kept fighting, and then I had that opportunity on the final lap.
“Finally, a bit of luck for me. It’s insane. I don’t know what to say.”
Hamilton spent a long time sitting in the cockpit of his car in parc ferme, reflecting on the one that got away.
“A big congratulations to Max and his team,” he said. “I think we did an amazing job this year. It’s been the most difficult of seasons. We gave it everything, and we never gave up.”
Coming into the race, Hamilton had won three Grands Prix on the trot to bring himself back into championship contention.
The incident about whether lapped cars would be allowed past the leader was only decided at the last moment after race control had already said they wouldn’t be.
Red Bull was frustrated, questioning the original decision.
When the lapped cars were eventually let by Hamilton, the crew at Mercedes blew up in anger.
“It’s not right,” a defeated Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said.
Even before Latifi’s crash, the race and the championship had their fair share of controversy. The most notable incident occurred on lap one.
Verstappen lunged up the inside of Hamilton at turn seven, forcing the Mercedes to cut the chicane and stay in the lead.
To his credit, Verstappen stayed on the race track the entire time. However, race control saw the incident the other way and didn’t investigate it any further.
“He has to give me the place back,” Verstappen said on the radio at the time.
Red Bull asked the FIA for clarification, evidently frustrated at a supposed lack of consistency over the last few Grands Prix.
Verstappen’s championship win ends Mercedes’ stranglehold on the sport dating back to 2014.
He becomes the first Dutch world champion.
“I hope I can do this for a very long time,” he said.
Behind all the drama up front, Carlos Sainz finished an admirable third, his fourth podium of the season and sealed fifth in the drivers’ standings.
Mercedes clinched the constructors’ championship, their eighth successive title.
Perhaps amidst all the chaos, it’s nice to note Kimi Raikkonen was awarded Driver of the Day in his final F1 Grand Prix.
Raikkonen’s race ended early with a brake failure.
|3||Carlos Sainz Jr.||+5.173s|
|12||Daniel Ricciardo||+1 lap|
|13||Lance Stroll||+1 lap|
|14||Mick Schumacher||+1 lap|