until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Verstappen passes Hamilton on last lap to win F1 title

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
10 min read

Red Bull Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen won the 2021 Formula 1 title after beating Lewis Hamilton in a one-lap dash that concluded a surreal Abu Dhabi season finale.

In doing so, Verstappen ended a streak of five consecutive Hamilton titles and seven consecutive titles for Mercedes drivers, having become Red Bull’s first champion since Sebastian Vettel.

Yet despite Verstappen having dominated qualifying, this was far from a straightforward race, with two incredibly controversial moments wildly swinging the balance of power in the event.

The first one came when Hamilton cut the track while defending from Verstappen on the opening lap after passing him off the line, and the latter was in how the late-race restart was handled – with race control initially saying that the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen would stay as they are, before getting them out of the way.

This allowed the soft-shod Verstappen to pressure Hamilton and overtake him with a lunge down the inside of Turn 5, before fighting off the Mercedes’ attacks on the next two straights and going on to win.

Despite having started on harder tyres that theoretically provide less grip off the line, Hamilton had Verstappen beat into Turn 1 and had a decent advantage in hand coming out of the corner.

Yet the Dutchman stayed close enough to attempt an audacious lunge from down the inside of the Turn 6 left-hander, with Hamilton attempting to stay alongside and soon running out of room.

And while Verstappen just made the corner, Hamilton straightlined the subsequent Turn 7 right-hander and emerged well ahead further up the track.

It was very quickly communicated by race control that no investigation into the incident was necessary, with Michael Masi telling Red Bull that the stewards believed Verstappen had forced Hamilton off and that Hamilton subsequently returned the advantage he had gained by going off-track – an argument that had left Red Bull completely unconvinced.

Verstappen, who when told Hamilton wouldn’t be ordered to cede position described the decision as “incredible”, and soon began to drop away significantly from Hamilton as his softs began to struggle relative to Hamilton’s mediums.

As things began to look progressively bleak to the Dutchman, Red Bull pulled the trigger on an early stop from softs to hards on lap 13 of 58.

The crew nailed a fast pitstop to allow Verstappen to come out right ahead of sixth-placed Charles Leclerc – who immediately had a sideways snap in his dirty air and had an off-track excursion.

He dealt easily with Lando Norris up ahead, but Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz proved a tougher nut to crack. And by the time Verstappen had passed his former Toro Rosso team-mate, Hamilton – who had pitted for hards the lap after Verstappen and had come out ahead of Sainz – was already around eight seconds up the road.

Remarkably, that lead was soon going to evaporate almost entirely, with Perez kept out by Red Bull on softs and explicitly asked to hold up Hamilton. The Mexican did just that to remarkable effect, lunging down the inside of Hamilton at Turn 6 after the reigning champion looked to have completed a simple DRS-assisted pass.

Perez then let Hamilton through early on on the next straight, but took advantage of DRS and slipstream to get back ahead before Turn 9, before tackling the remaining twisty corners of the lap at a distinctly leisurely pace.

Hamilton ultimately completed the pass next time by out of Turn 5, managing to avoid Sergio Perez’s DRS-assisted retaliation this time – yet by then Verstappen was already just two seconds back, and Perez duly let him past with minimal interference before pitting.

However, once in clean air Hamilton once again began to eke out a gap to Verstappen, looking in full control and set for a straightforward stint – only for an outside factor to intervene once more.

This time, it was Antonio Giovinazzi – in his final F1 race for now – parking up his Alfa Romeo at the side of the road after losing gears, bringing out a virtual safety car on lap 36. While Verstappen used the occasion to make a second stop for another set of fresh hards, Hamilton had stayed out, with Mercedes believing the risk of losing track position to be too high.

As Verstappen emerged 20 seconds back, Mercedes’ call looked justified almost right away, with Verstappen nowhere near making up the amount of laptime he needed to close the gap to Hamilton at the end of the race, with Verstappen getting no closer than 11 seconds off.

Incredibly, though, one more big twist was yet to come, as Williams driver Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barriers with five laps to go a few corrners after contact with the Haas of Mick Schumacher – whose team-mate Nikita Mazepin sat out the race due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

The safety car was called out for Latifi’s shunt, and Hamilton again wasn’t called in, with Mercedes unwilling to risk the track position and giving Verstappen effectively a free swap to fresh softs from hards.

With Latifi’s Williams briefly on fire after the crash and five lapped cars between the two title rivals, there was serious doubt whether there would be enough time for the race to restart. And at one point, it was communicated that – presumably because of time constraints – the lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake Hamilton and rejoin at the back, as is normal.

However, on the penultimate lap the race control’s guidance changed, with the lapped cars overtaking and Toto Wolff absolutely incensed on the radio to Masi, his driver now effectively a sitting duck and unable to fight off Verstappen on the final lap.

With Perez forced to retire due to an unspecified mechanical issue during the final safety car, Sainz completed the podium for Ferrari, while AlphaTauri had rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly completing the top five – both overtaking Valtteri Bottas on the final lap.

Bottas had a difficult final race for Mercedes and was unable to really aid Hamilton, after slipping behind Charles Leclerc and Tsunoda on the opening lap and struggling to get positions back for a long time.

He did, however, ultimately contribute to what is Mercedes’ eighth straight constructors’ title.

Behind Bottas, Lando Norris took seventh, having had to surrender fifth place due to a late puncture.

The Alpines of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon completed the top nine, with Leclerc wrapping up the points, his Ferrari team having secured third in the constructors’ standings.

F1 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen’s final race ended due to an early-race brake failure, while George Russell – who will join Hamilton at Mercedes next year – had to retire from his final Williams hurrah with a suspected gearbox issue.

Race Results

Pos Name Car Laps Laps Led Total Time Fastest Lap Pitstops Pts
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 58 1 1h30m17.345s 1m26.103s 3 26
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 51 +2.256s 1m26.615s 1 18
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 58 0 +5.173s 1m27.618s 1 15
4 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 58 0 +5.692s 1m27.496s 2 12
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 58 0 +6.531s 1m27.342s 2 10
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 58 0 +7.463s 1m26.862s 1 8
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 58 0 +59.2s 1m26.762s 2 6
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 58 0 +1m01.708s 1m27.607s 1 4
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 58 0 +1m04.026s 1m28.249s 1 2
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 58 0 +1m06.057s 1m28.433s 2 1
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 58 0 +1m07.527s 1m28.303s 1 0
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 57 0 +1 lap 1m28.723s 2 0
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 57 0 +1 lap 1m28.567s 2 0
14 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 57 0 +1 lap 1m29.457s 2 0
Sergio Pérez Red Bull-Honda 55 6 DNF 1m26.419s 3 0
Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 50 0 DNF 1m29.293s 1 0
Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 33 0 DNF 1m29.442s 1 0
George Russell Williams-Mercedes 26 0 DNF 1m30.647s 0 0
Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 25 0 DNF 1m29.698s 1 0
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