On the last lap, Max Verstappen clinched victory in Abu Dhabi and thus his first world title. After winning the start, everything looked like a comfortable victory for Lewis Hamilton, but a late safety car phase changed everything.
What a crazy and dramatic finale that was perfect for this Formula 1 season! The new world champion is called Max Verstappen. The Dutchman secured his first title on the last lap of all places. His great luck: A safety car phase, which was triggered on lap 53 by Nicholas Latifi in the Williams crashing into the wall.
Red Bull took the chance and switched back to soft tires which allowed Verstappen to snatch the lead from Hamilton after the restart at Turn 5. For Verstappen it is the 20th win of his career and the tenth of the season. He climbs to the Olympus of motorsport and dethrones Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes has secured the Constructors' Championship for the eighth time in a row.
"It's incredible," said Verstappen. "I've always struggled and of course I took the opportunity on the last lap. I'm still cramping. This year has been incredible. There was also a bit of luck for me. I want to stay with this team for the rest of my life. "
The ex-world champion showed himself to be a fair loser in what was perhaps his most difficult hour. "I want to congratulate Max and his team," said Hamilton, who seemed quite composed. "We and everyone at the factory worked so hard. We gave it our all at the end of the season."
Mercedes was sovereign
Beforehand, everything looked like a sovereign performance from start to finish over 58 laps by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. In the first lap, things didn't go according to plan for Verstappen. He clearly lost to Hamilton and had to queue up at the back. After that, the fans saw another classic maneuver by the youngster: he tried to pass the Silver Arrow driver on the inside in turn 6, forcing Hamilton off the track. It almost touched. However, Verstappen fell back again.
The Red Bull command post then tried twice to initiate an investigation with FIA race director Michael Masi because they were of the opinion that Hamilton should give up the place. However, the Australian remained consistent and announced that the sports commissioners have looked at it, but will not investigate the incident.
Hamilton vs. Perez
Hamilton initially pulled away before Verstappen made his first stop for the change from soft to hard and Mercedes immediately followed suit. Then Sergio Perez was the big joker. The Mexican led and finally fought a hot duel with the approaching Hamilton from lap 19 to 21. Hamilton first grabbed the Red Bull driver, but then he hit back again.In lap 21 the situation was clear: the seven-time world champion took the lead again. Verstappen was the beneficiary and was able to reduce his deficit by seven seconds.
The next key scene happened on lap 36 when the Virtual Safety Car was called into action because Antonio Giovinazzi had to park the Alfa Romeo at the side of the track due to gearshift problems. Red Bull seized the opportunity and let Verstappen put on hard tires again to attack. Hamilton couldn't do that due to the risk of losing the lead. After that it was clear: If the Dutchman wants to win the title, he has to catch up 20.2 seconds.
Last lap showdown
At first, Hamilton appeared to be heading towards the title. He controlled the big lead for a long time. His rival only nibbled off a few tenths of a second per lap. But then the drama ensued. At Turn 14, Nicholas Latifi crashed heavily into the gang. This time the real safety car had to be deployed. Red Bull stopped with both Verstappen and Perez, letting both open the soft tires for one last attack. It came to a showdown on the final lap, with Verstappen taking the lead in Turn 5 on the fresher tires. Hamilton started to counterattack again, but could do nothing more.
Afterwards there were still big discussions because not all the lapped cars were allowed to pass the safety car, but only some and the safety car didn't come into the pits on the following lap, but directly. Some wonder if that was legal or rather an artificial intervention. The protest from Mercedes followed immediately. On the one hand, an appeal was lodged against the result because it violates Article 48.12 and the maneuver that Verstappen probably pulled next to Hamilton behind the safety car (Article 48.8). However, both protests were dismissed after 4.5 hours and Verstappen was the world champion. Merecdes could theoretically still appeal.
Perez had to park his RB16B in the pits during the safety car phase. With that, Carlos Sainz inherited the last place on the podium in the Ferrari. The Spaniard drove a smooth race with one stop. Alpha Tauri should also be overjoyed. Although they were still struggling with the long run on Friday, they completed a good race and brought Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly home in fourth and fifth place.
Valtteri Bottas remained pale and couldn't even come close to keeping up with Hamilton in the last race for Mercedes. He finished the race in sixth place ahead of Lando Norris in the McLaren who was struggling. The two Alpine pilots Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon showed a solid team performance in 8th and 9th place. Charles Leclerc completes the top ten. Kimi Raikkonen had to park the Alfa-Sauber in his last Formula 1 race after a botched pit stop and a spin.A wheel nut was jammed, the tire was not properly attached. The veteran even lost his car when braking for the sixth corner. Haas driver Nikita Mazepin did not even start due to a positive corona test.