Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has won the 2021 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship in a thrilling fashion.
The Dutchman snatched victory from Lewis Hamilton in the final race of the season – the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – to win the championship battle.
Verstappen has become the first Dutch driver to win the championship. He is also the first non-British or German driver to win since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
“My goal when I was little was to become an F1 driver. You hope for wins, you hope to be on the podium, when they play the national anthem you one day hope they’ll play yours. Now standing here and they tell you you’re the world champion is something incredible,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.
The Red Bull driver has won the fifth Drivers’ Championship for the team, ending the seven consecutive titles won by Mercedes drivers.
The two drivers started the 22nd and final race weekend level on points. This is only the second time this has happened; last time was in 1974 between Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni.
In qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen put Red Bull in pole position with Hamilton’s Mercedes in second.
When the lights went out on Sunday, it was the Mercedes driver who had the better start of the two, and he was ahead leading into turn one.
Going into turn six on the opening lap, the two championship contenders almost crashed. They managed to avoid each other, and Hamilton stayed in front.
From this point onwards, the race and championship seemed to be Hamilton’s to lose. He was faster, and providing there were no complications, the British driver looked destined to win his record-breaking eighth world championship.
However, on the fifth-last lap of the race, Mick Schumacher forced Nicholas Latifi wide, causing the Canadian driver to collide with the barriers at turn 14.
This sparked the controversy.
The safety car was promptly deployed, and Verstappen pitted for a fresh set of soft tyres while Hamilton stayed out to finish the race and season on his old, hard tyres.
The two drivers were following the safety car around the track with several lapped cars between them. At first, these lapped cars were told they were not allowed to unlap themselves, which would have made it more difficult for Verstappen to catch Hamilton.
On the penultimate lap of the race, the cars in between Verstappen and Hamilton were instructed to overtake the safety car which was also ending at the end of that lap.
Hamilton and Verstappen started the last lap together. One lap to crown one champion.
Unfortunately for the British driver, his tyres could not keep the Dutchman from flying past into turn five and taking the lead of the Grand Prix. Verstappen held on, taking home his first F1 World Drivers’ Championship.
Hamilton and Mercedes were understandably devastated, despite winning their eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship.
“I’m just speechless Lewis, absolutely speechless,” Bono, Hamilton’s race engineer, told the seven-time world champion. To which Hamilton had no reply.
The Championship was not finished. Mercedes launched two protests after the race which were both dismissed by the FIA.
Verstappen has been confirmed as the World Champion, and he is the fourth driver to win his first championship under the age of 25.