The Dutch driver secured the world championship in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
The finale of the 2021 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi was predicted to be the wildest ever as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were tied neck and neck in the drivers championship.
In what was the most insane of races, Hamilton took the lead from pole sitter Verstappen at the start and led comfortably until a safety car came out. Verstappen had his luck with another safety car in which he pitted for the second time for fresh soft tyres and Hamilton stayed out with worn out hard tyres. It gave Verstappen the perfect opportunity to launch an attack on Hamilton which he did on the final lap much to the disbelief of the Mercedes pitwall and euphoria from the Red Bull garage.
Mercedes were clearly not satisfied with how the race ended and protested but have since had their protests rejected. It is indeed a bitter pill to swallow for a team that gained momentum late on after early dominance by Max and Red Bull. Whether it ended fair or not, the Hasselt-born driver and his energy drink-backed team have reigned supreme.
Red Bull had come a long way in the Hybrid V6 turbo engine era playing catch up with Mercedes after their four-year dominance (2010-2013) under the V8s with Sebastian Vettel. It was truly frustrating with the Renault-winning engine of that time failing to replicate the performance with a different spec. Credit to the Milton-Keynes-based outfit for ditching the French manufacturer for Honda. It was never going to be a pleasant start with Honda after their tumultuous time with McLaren but signs of improvement were there and massive gains were made.
In all this, the clear difference was Verstappen who showed champion traits from the moment he won his maiden F1 race in Spain in 2016 at the age of 18, becoming the youngest-ever F1 race winner. For his age and the manner he did with a lot of grit and brilliance, made it so special.
As the years went by, it was evident Verstappen was growing in confidence and improving on his race craft. He is often criticised for making dangerous moves, something he was not immune from this year, going as far as being blamed for nearly causing grave harm to Hamilton when his car went airborne in Monza and his tyres nearly landed on Hamilton’s head. The Brit was however saved by the Halo device and was able to walk out of the incident unscathed.
Verstappen is not afraid to take risks and will do so whenever he has the opportunity. Of course he gets penalised more often than not but he hardly cares and will still brace the odds to push himself to the limit. That was simply his attitude when the chance presented itself for him to challenge Hamilton.
The season might not have started on a winning note for the former Toro Rosso driver as Hamilton won in Bahrain. However Verstappen’s win in Emilia Romagna and subsequent victories in Monaco, France, Styria, Austria and not forgetting the near victory in Azerbaijan if not for a tyre blowout, was already a sign that he was a real threat and not to be taken likely.
Mercedes didn’t seem to have an answer to Red Bull’s pace and it was probably at this point the German manufacturer realised how deep both the drivers and constructors championship was actually not going to be theirs this year. Only heaven knows what they cooked up but they found unbelievable pace starting from Brazil and Verstappen’s lead began to cut as Hamilton won the next races in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The luck for Verstappen was he remained composed in all this, his car did not have any issues and was able to finish second each time, giving room for the drama that unfolded in Abu Dhabi which ultimately went his way.
At the end of the day, Verstappen claimed 10 race wins, 10 pole positions and 18 podium finishes, the most by any driver in a single year in F1 history. An astonishing feat for Max is that bar his DNFs in Silverstone and Monza, 18th place classification in Baku and ninth in Hungary, he did not finish lower than second in the other races. Hamilton meanwhile had one DNF, third, fourth, fifth, seventh and 15th place finishes at various circuits, all which were key to Verstappen building his initial healthy gap.
That about says who deserved this year’s championship. Everything played into Red Bull’s hands, who will go into next year with so much confidence as they take over control of the Honda power unit.
A shame Hamilton could not win a record eighth title that would have seen him eclipse Michael Schumacher’s record of seven. The 36-year-old will have another go next year but he will need to be weary of Verstappen again as it will be another bumpy season.
Neutrals have clearly enjoyed 2021 and they could not ask for more thanks to what Verstappen served.