Verstappen wins thrilling Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to clinch maiden F1 world title

Verstappen started in pole in his epic battle with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton



Formula One World champion Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium. (AFP)
Formula One World champion Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium. (AFP)
by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Sun 12 Dec 2021, 8:32 PM

Max Verstappen won his maiden Formula One title after an edge-of-the-seat thriller at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.

Following a dramatic safety car situation, the race was decided in the final lap and Red Bull’s Verstappen overtook defending champion and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in Turn 5 of the reconfigured Yas Marina Circuit to the chequered flag in a nail-biting finish.

And the ‘orange’ stand erupted in joyous celebrations.

“It is unbelievable guys. Can we do this for 10-15 years together,” Verstappen, the 24-year-old, asked his team after winning arguably the most competitive F1 season.

Verstappen and seven-time champion Hamilton entered the historic race tied on points. They were on different race strategies with Verstappen on soft tyres and Hamilton on medium. At the end, Red Bull’s smart game plan, a selfless teammate in Sergio Perez and a safety car situation in lap 54, with just four more to go to the end, were all an unbelievable mix of events that helped hand the Dutchman the championship.

Max Verstappen celebrates with members of his team after winning the thrilling race. (AFP)
Max Verstappen celebrates with members of his team after winning the thrilling race. (AFP)

The much-anticipated start to the grand finale of the twilight race was surprisingly a clean one without any incidents needing a yellow flag or race suspensions. Hamilton was quickest off the block and comfortably passed pole-sitter Verstappen, who was on the softs.

On Turn 7, Verstappen had an opportunity to take the lead but Hamilton ran wide and maintained his lead. Verstappen and Red Bull cried foul but stewards deemed that the Dutchman had “forced” the British driver out of the track.

For Red Bull, Perez, who started fourth, moved to third. Meanwhile, Hamilton stretched his lead, recording faster laps.

By the end of 10 laps, Verstappen told his team that his car started to “struggle”. On lap 14, Verstappen switched to hard tyres in a 2.1-seconds pit stop and was back on track in fifth spot. In the next lap, Hamilton was in the pits and returned with hard tyres and rejoined 10 seconds behind leader Perez. The Mexican held off Hamilton for a couple of laps as Verstappen gained places, and then pitted in lap 22. It was the Red Bull strategy, which made the race closer than before.

But Hamilton comfortably led the race. During a virtual safety car situation, Verstappen pitted for the second time on lap 36 followed by Perez, whereas Hamilton stayed out on the track. With just over 20 laps to go, it was game on with less than 17 seconds between the title rivals. And as the race progressed Verstappen, on new tyres, was able to shave off the gap to Hamilton, who was still able to maintain an 11-second lead after 51 laps.

Max Verstappen celebrates as Lewis Hamilton applauds on the podium. (AFP)
Max Verstappen celebrates as Lewis Hamilton applauds on the podium. (AFP)

With just 5 laps to go, there was high drama as Williams’ driver Nicholas Latifi crashed and there was a safety car situation. After the delayed restart, there was just one lap to decide the championship and Verstappen came on top in the final showdown.

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. was third on the podium, ironically, in a race where Scuderia’s last champion Kimi Raikkonen bid goodbye to F1.

In his last, Raikkonen retired with mechanical issues on lap 27.

“Not how we wanted Kimi’s last race to go. All the same, a big thank you again for this great journey. We’ll miss you always,” Alfa Romeo tweeted.

Also, Hass driver Nikita Mazepin wasn’t part of the race after testing Covid-19 positive.

For the record, this has been the seventh time that a pole-sitter has gone on to win the race in Abu Dhabi. And with this result, Red Bull topped the driver’s championship for the first time since 2013 when team principal Christian Horner and German star Sebastian Vettel secured their fourth title in-a-row.

However, Mercedes took the constructors’ championship closely followed by Red Bull as the curtain fell on a historic season.


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