This world championship wrote motorsport history. One highlight chased the next. One controversy the other. Red Bull and Mercedes met as equals. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton too. In seven chapters, we look back on the great duel for the Formula 1 crown.
This duel was electrifying. No fan could escape the tension. It gave Formula 1 many new followers. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen fought each other on every imaginable level. With the better outcome for the 24-year-old from the Netherlands, who became world champion for the first time. And that in the last round of a memorable final. The season consisted not only of this one chapter, but of 21 others. Verstappen against Hamilton: Those were the highlights and excitement.
Young versus old. Crown prince versus king. Super talent against record world champion. In more than half of the races, the high-flyers of Formula 1 went into an infight. Hamilton left the racetrack as the winner six times, Verstappen five times. In Italy there was a draw. Since both stranded in the gravel bed.
The season started with a Hamilton victory in the floodlights of Bahrain. His opponent had actually overtaken him shortly before the end of the race, albeit off the track. Red Bull whistled his star back – otherwise the sports commissioners would have acted. Revenge followed in Imola. Verstappen pushed the Mercedes offside at the start.
It was back and forth in Portimão: Verstappen first overtook the Mercedes on the home straight, then Hamilton countered. At the Spanish GP, a second pit stop helped the record winner to get fresher tires and ultimately success. Hamilton passed the inferior Red Bull with seven laps to go. The opponent copied the strategy in France. Verstappen left Hamilton in the penultimate lap.
Only the Mercedes survived the collision at Silverstone at almost 300 km/h. In the USA, Hamilton punched through at the start, but was still defeated. In Mexico, Valtteri Bottas started as a buffer between the World Cup rivals. In Brazil and Saudi Arabia, Verstappen defended himself by banning the Mercedes next to the track while defending. Nevertheless, Hamilton prevailed in each case.
In Abu Dhabi, the crown prince clinched the world title on the last lap - thanks to fresher tires. Hamilton's counterattack brought him next to the Red Bull again, but not in front of it. The dethroned champion remained a fair loser in the hour of what was perhaps his most difficult defeat and congratulated Verstappen.
In Copse Corner there was a bang at high speed, in Monza at a snail's pace by Formula 1 standards. Max Verstappen didn't give in on the outside at Silverstone. The left front wheel of the Mercedes wedged itself into the right rear wheel of the Red Bull. The dark blue car flew into the tire wall.Delay: 51g Estimated damage: $1.8 million. Twice as bitter: Red Bull not only lost a car, but later also the engine. That led to the grid penalty in Sochi.
The stewards mainly saw Hamilton as responsible. They pronounced a penalty of ten seconds. Nevertheless, he won his home game. At the high-speed classic in Italy, the brawlers brought two botched pit stops together in the first place. Verstappen had one chance to get past the Mercedes again. He braked in the first chicane to the left, pulled along on the outside lane and climbed over the rival's car. Hamilton was lucky that the Titanium Halo bar above the cockpit fended off the wheel. He got away with a graze and neck pain. This time Verstappen paid – with three penalties for the following Russian GP.
It should bang again. This time, however, both cars got off lightly. In Saudi Arabia, Verstappen braked with a pressure of 69 bar in front of Hamilton's nose because he had to let the Mercedes pass on the instructions of the commissioners, but still wanted to do it in front of the DRS line. Some spoke of a brake test. Others also took responsibility for Hamilton. The Englishman was only able to avoid half and hit the Red Bull at the left rear. The sports commissioners identified Verstappen as the culprit. The penalty: ten seconds.
The Dutch generally felt disadvantaged. Also because his defensive maneuvers were denounced. "For me other standards apply." Red Bull sensed a witch hunt - instigated by Mercedes.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff summed it up before the last race. "The years against Ferrari were also brutal. The difference: Red Bull demanded everything from us all year." Hamilton added: "It made us better that Max and Red Bull put so much pressure on me. I hope we see more seasons like this in the future."
No driver, no team came through without making mistakes. Hamilton sank his W12 during winter testing in Bahrain. It was then that one suspected that the winning machine might falter for the first time. In Imola, he retired into the gravel bed in the Tosa curve because he was too impatient when lapping. The 36-year-old was lucky that a red phase saved him second place.
Hamilton blundered during the restart in Baku when he accidentally hit the Brake Magic button on the steering wheel. In Monza he slept through the start of the sprint race. During qualifying in Russia, he hit the wall at the pit entrance and spun off the track. In Turkey he did not listen to his strategists. A possible podium turned into only a fifth place.
Verstappen opened the door for Hamilton in Portimão with a small skid in the penultimate corner. He crashed in Baku in the third practice session and in Belgium in the second.In Qatar he had to drop five grid positions because he didn't take his foot off the gas at the end of the qualifying yellow flag. In Saudi Arabia he was on a dream lap up to the last corner – then he touched the wall. That wouldn't have been a problem if he had at least won the first restart in Jeddah.
He also missed the start in the final. Response time was bad. And: "He accelerated too much. That's why the wheels spun in first and second gear," explained Red Bull sports director Helmut Marko. Hamilton dominated the finale from A to Y. The late safety car spoiled his eighth title win.
Of course the accidents. Both Red Bull and Mercedes follow suit. The Milton Keynes team wanted to get a tougher penalty after Silverstone. They even sent Alexander Albon around the track in an old car on a movie day to follow Hamilton's lines and gather new evidence. Mercedes didn't like Verstappen's driving style. After Brazil, the defending champion sought an investigation. The stewards both times refrained from subsequently correcting their judgment.
Technically, it was all about the rear wing. From the French GP, the FIA tightened the tests to prevent excessive bending. Apparently pushed by Mercedes to weaken Red Bull. Tire regulations have also been tightened following the Azerbaijan damage. Here, too, Mercedes believed that the opponent was at least fishing in gray areas. Red Bull, for their part, pointed their finger at the Mercedes front wing.
From Silverstone onwards, Red Bull was concerned with the opponent's regained top speed advantage. The theory with a targeted cooling of the air collector turned out to be a pipe dream. The trick with the lowering rear end on the straights has been around at Mercedes for years. After England's technology offensive, it was finally possible to use it properly again.
With the allegedly flexible main blade of the rear wing (from 260 km/h), Red Bull thinks it has landed a hit. "Mercedes modified." The opponent denies. Finally, the underbody of the Mercedes was suspected. The master constructor attributed the DRS affair in Brazil to two loose fastening screws. Verstappen fumbled the wing and almost helped Mercedes to escape. He stole 50,000 euros.
Before the finale, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner denounced the Mercedes PR machine. An entire corporation is spreading the "Mad Max" narrative to exert pressure. Mercedes smiled away the allegations. "We probably have to pay our spokespersons more money."
Of course, the grand finale couldn't be silent either. Mercedes tried to change the result afterwards at the green table. Once because Verstappen came under the safety car just before Hamilton. The other time because there was a formal error when restarting after the safety car.The sports commissioners let them bounce off twice. Mercedes submitted its intention to appeal in good time. The late and unexpected defeat hurt after 52 laps it looked like a walkthrough. Four days after the final, Mercedes also drew a line and took the appeal off the table.
It was almost quiet compared to the technical directive on pit stops, which took effect after the summer break. The tire changes became slower. Despite this, Red Bull remained at the top in this discipline.
The best races
For Hamilton it was Brazil and Abu Dhabi. It's really hard to pick one out. In Interlagos he didn't let two penalties stop him. He made up a total of 24 positions in the sprint and the main race. In the season finale, he beat his rival at the start despite the harder tires. Hamilton drove a brilliant race with no mistakes, while Verstappen seemed nervous at times. Just like the Brit did in 2007 when he was racing for the title and in 2008 when he won his first in the final meters.
Verstappen's cream Grand Prix was the home game in the Netherlands. Pole despite DRS failure in the last qualifying lap. Victory in a sovereign manner. His fans expected it. The pressure was enormous. The later champion delivered. It was a real feat from the young gun who, like his rival, has generally impressed all season. The two undisputed best drivers fought an epic duel that will never be forgotten.
For Hamilton, Monaco was a complete failure. Seventh in qualifying, seventh in the race. Tire temperature and grip were missing for one lap. In the endurance run, the Mercedes ate the tires. The strategists had to adjust the strategy. Undercut instead of overcut: It just didn't help. Verstappen cleaned up with the win, but was also lucky that pole setter Charles Leclerc didn't even start.
Before the English GP it was 182 to 150 for Verstappen. He could have easily taken 18 championship points with him. Instead, he went outside in Copse. This time he had to reckon with Hamilton holding up on the inside lane. The Englishman had to win this race for psychology alone. Not necessarily Verstappen. The risk was unnecessary.
Verstappen prevailed in the longest season in history with 395.5 to 387.5 points. He won ten races, Hamilton eight. Verstappen started the race from first place ten times, his rival five times. Both turned the fastest lap in six Grands Prix. The world champion only collected five points. The fastest race lap in Baku was just for the gallery after the accident.
Hamilton scored two points in the sprints (England, Italy, Brazil). Verstappen got seven points. The new world champion climbed onto the podium 18 times, Hamilton 17 times.The Red Bull driver led 652 laps. Hamilton whose 297th Verstappen was a total of 2,989 kilometers in the lead, Hamilton 1,582. The numbers show the 24-year-old's outstanding season: Verstappen is a worthy title holder.