Verstappen defeats Hamilton to title in controversial season finale

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen defeated Lewis Hamilton at the 2021 World Championship in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which ended the season yesterday (December 12), but Mercedes protests the result after a restart of the car safety in the last lap upset the race.

Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium. Photo: AFP

Hamilton had the race and the title nearly sewn up with five laps to go, having beaten poleman Verstappen on the line and dominated the race afterwards, until Nicholas Latifi crushed his Williams car in the last sector, forcing the stroke control to intervene.

The safety car was called and Verstappen was able to make a last minute tire change, switching to the super-fast soft tire, for the restart. Hamilton, whose gap to the Dutchman had been comfortable but not enough to cover him with a stoppage on his own, was left out on his tired hard tires, making him extremely vulnerable to attack.

But there was doubt as to whether the race would be restarted at all with so few laps remaining to get the car back. To give the race its best chance of resuming, race management communicated to the teams that the timing cars, which were jumbled up among the leaders, would not be allowed to run on their own, which allowed them to save precious time.

But then the decision was recalled and three overtaken cars separating Hamilton from Verstappen were allowed to overtake the safety car to pave the way for one last do or die lap.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was apoplectic and he furiously informed race director Michael Masi that the decision was unsportsmanlike. But the race resumed on lap 58 of 58, and Hamilton was a sitting duck.

The Briton kept the lead in the first corner, but his traction at the top was poor with his rubber misused. Verstappen chased him to turn 5, where he launched into the summit from a distance to take the lead.

Hamilton tried to fight through the chicane and up to bank turn 9, but he couldn’t get close enough, and when Verstappen swept the banked corner and into the twisty final sector, his control of the race was sure, and he took the checkered flag to record a famous and controversial victory.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “The whole race I kept fighting, then the opportunity on the last lap is amazing.

“He doesn’t know what to say. My guys in the team and of course Honda deserve it too.

“To the team, I think they know I love them, and I hope we can do that for 10 to 15 years together. There’s no reason to ever change.

Still furious after the race, Mercedes lodged two complaints with the stewards, one alleging the irregular dropping of overtaken cars behind the safety car by race control and another for Verstapp appearing to nose down in front of Hamilton during the car. safety, while overtaking is prohibited.

Stewards have heard the complaints after the race, with a decision to be made at time of writing.

Hamilton, who had controlled the race after taking the lead at the lights out and easily covering Verstappen in the pit stop, was devastated that he lost the race and his chance for a championship record eighth on the final lap.

“First off, a big thumbs up to Max and his team,” said a dispirited Hamilton. “I think we’ve done an incredible job this year. My team and everyone at the factory… have worked so hard all year. It has been the most difficult season. I am so proud of them.

“We gave everything. This last part of the season, we gave him absolutely everything. We never gave up, and that’s the most important thing.

Sergio Perez retired during the safety car after being well on his way to a well-deserved third place with an exciting battle with Hamilton in laps 20 and 21. The Mexican had been left out on his starting softs to slow the pace down. The Briton’s progress and giving Verstappen a shot at an unlikely pass, and while that ultimately didn’t help the Dutchman, the pair that made it through the first and second sectors was a highlight of the race.

Carlos Sainz took his place to step on the third step of the podium to end his first year as a Ferrari driver on a high note and ahead of his teammate Charles Leclerc in the championship standings.

“I’m definitely going to take it, especially after everything that’s been going on in this race with the safety car running late,” he said. “A podium to end a powerful first season for me, for Ferrari, Championship P5 – I think I took it today and really enjoyed it.”

AlphaTauri recorded excellent fourth and fifth with Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly after passing Valtteri Bottas on the final lap, but that was not enough to close Alpine for fifth place in the constructors’ standings.

Bottas ended his Mercedes career in an ineffective sixth place ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finished eighth and ninth, and Charles Leclerc completed the top 10 for Ferrari.

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