Updated: Nov 22, 2022
We have our World Champion, Max Verstappen took home not only the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, but the championship. By the narrowest of margins under some of the most controversial circumstances the World Championship was won by a dutchman for the first time in the history of the sport. I don’t think at the beginning of the season anyone would’ve thought that this championship would go down to the final lap of the final race.
Max Verstappen is Champion of the World for the first time while Mercedes clinched a record-breaking 8thconsecutive Constructors Championship.
Last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw a lot of emotions as many drivers said goodbye to their teams, and a thrilling title race came to an end. It was George Russell’s last race for Williams before replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes. The Fin is moving to Alpha Romeo where he will be joined by Guanyu Zhou after the Italian side is saying goodbye to both its drivers with Kimi Räikkönen retiring from Formula 1 and Antonio Giovinazzi missing out on a seat for next year.
Saturday saw the last qualifying session of the season and Räikkönen unfortunately failing to reach Q2 for the final time in his career. It was far from a dream qualifying for Pierre Gasly too, as the Frenchman was knocked out in Q2, unusual for him this season after consistently reaching Q3 all year. The two Red Bulls showed their brilliant teamwork in Q3 as Sergio Perez provided Max Verstappen with a slipstream to help him secure his fastest lap of qualifying.
Q3 ended with Verstappen in pole and Lewis Hamilton joining him on the front row for Sunday’s race to conclude what has been one of the most dramatic seasons in F1 history. I think that we all would’ve loved to have Lando Norris’ seat for the start of the race, the Brit qualified P3, and so was set for a fabulous view of two title challengers at lights out.
Sunday was race day, the final grand prix of 2021 and crunch time for Verstappen and Hamilton. Hamilton took the lead at the start of the race, and it wasn’t long before the first bit of drama started. Turn 9 saw Verstappen and Hamilton touch tyres and the Brit was forced off the track and cut the corner as a result. Much to Red Bull’s disappointment race director Michael Masi did not make Hamilton give the place back, this call was different to what he said about a similar situation last week in Jeddah.
Perez showed his qualities, not just as a driver but as a teammate to Verstappen by defending against Hamilton for a few laps, allowing the Dutchman to start closing the gap between him and his championship rival. Perez played the ultimate team game, leading to Verstappen saying over his radio “Checo is a legend”.
There was quite a theme of retiring cars this race, sadly for Alfa Romeo both their cars did not finish the race, which I am sure is not the way either of their drivers would have liked to say goodbye to F1. Additionally, Russell’s last outing in a Williams was cut short due to issues with the car. After his heroics at the beginning of the race Perez also had to retire his car, although at that stage he had done his job for Red Bull and all he could do for Verstappen.
Before we get into the late drama, I want to mention Yuki Tsunoda who got his best ever finish with P4 on Saturday and Carlos Sainz whose P3 finish not only put him on the podium but secured him P5 in the drivers’ championship behind both Mercedes and Red Bulls.
With 10 laps to go Christian Horner was interviewed on the pit wall and said that Red Bull needed a miracle to win the race, and with 5 laps left Mick Schumacher forced Nicholas Latifi wide and into the barriers. This led to a yellow flag and safety car coming onto the track, as well as the start to much confusion and controversy that ended the season. The safety car lasted for four laps, and initially all lapped cars could not overtake; therefore, Verstappen would have to pass 4 cars and Hamilton in just one lap to win.
Horner then said to Masi, “we need one more lap” and the race director reversed the decision allowing for on the lapped cars in between Verstappen and Hamilton to overtake the safety car. Whether this was of his own volition or because Masi felt pressured into ensuring there was a final lap of racing is unknown but the decision left Verstappen just half a second behind Hamilton, effectively deleting the 10 second lead the Brit had built up over the course of the race. This call was met with anger from both Hamilton and Toto Wolff, the team principal saying to race control “you need to reinstate the lap before, that’s not right”. The last lap was a racing lap after Masi’s call and with Verstappen on fresher soft tyres he managed to fight of Hamilton during the turn 5 and he ran away with not only the race, but the championship title as well.
Mercedes launched two appeals, both of which have been rejected by the FIA. Since then, Mercedes have launched an intention to further appeal this case on the grounds of inconsistent ruling by the race director.
There is no doubt that this was an extremely controversial grand prix, with some questionable calls from racing director Michael Masi. Personally, I am confused as to why there was no red flag, like in Baku, which would have provided both drivers an opportunity for fresh tyres while the track was being cleared. This would have meant there would be a standing restart and 5 laps of racing, something Masi was determined to end the race on.
There is no denying that Max Verstappen drove his heart out this season, with a record 18 podiums this year. He also had 3 DNFs, meaning that there was just one race in which he reached the chequered flag he did not secure silverware. I think that it is a shame for Verstappen to have won the final race under such circumstances, he deserved the championship, but I do not agree that he deserved to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton was the example of good sportsmanship and class, congratulating Verstappen in person and publicly, taking the podium with grace and never outwardly complaining about how the race had been handled.
Hats off to both drivers for an amazing championship this year, it is unlikely a title fight will come down to the final lap of the final race for quite some time.