Formula One history was written at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Redbull’s Max Verstappen became the first-ever Dutch driver to win an F1 Championship.
For the first time since 1974, the championship protagonists, Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, entered the last race weekend of the season with the same amount of points (369.5).
The 2021 F1 World Title decision came down to the final lap of the race after a safety car was called out due to Williams driver Nicholas Latifi’s crash on lap 52 out of 58. At this time, Hamilton was leading the race and Verstappen was 12 seconds behind in the second position. However, four lapped cars were in between the rivals.
Five laps later, the drama and controversy began when the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Race Director Michael Masi decided to let the lapped cars, overtake the safety car, meaning that Verstappen would be right behind Hamilton for the final racing lap.
The safety car ended and Verstappen was desperate for his first World Title. Verstappen made his move into turn 5 and the crowd went crazy. Verstappen overtook Hamilton and was now leading the race.
“No Michael, no no Michael, that was so not right,” said Team Principal and CEO of Mercedes Toto Wolff to Masi over the radio.
Hamilton tried to fight his way back going into turn 9 but was not able to gain positions.
“And at this moment, it looks like it’s gonna go the way of Max Verstappen. Mercedes not happy, Red Bull will be delighted,” said the F1 commentators. “They have shared a brilliant championship battle, but the championship can only be won by one and it’s going Dutch in 2021, Max Verstappen for the first time ever is champion of the world.”
Verstappen on the team radio was screaming excitedly, “yes, yes, oh my god, oh my god.”
“Max Verstappen, you are the world champion, the world champion,” Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner told Verstappen.
With that, Verstappen broke into tears, “I love you so much. It is unbelievable, guys. Can we do this for another 10-15 years together?”
The 2021 Abu Dhabi podium was Verstappen in first, Hamilton in second, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in third.
Mercedes took home first in the constructor’s championship, Red Bull behind them.
Verstappen admits that he could not have won the championship without the help of his teammate Sergio Pérez, “Checo is a legend.”
Pérez defended like a lion.
On lap 14, Hamilton was leading the race, Verstappen behind, and Pérez in third. Verstappen then got called in for a pitstop and got out in fourth.
Hamilton, a lap later, pitted as well. Pérez then took the lead of the race and Hamilton came out in second, behind Pérez.
A few laps later, Pérez asked the Red Bull engineers, “so what’s the plan now?” Red Bull engineers replied, “plan b.”
On lap 20, Pérez and Hamilton intensely battled it out. Hamilton overtook Pérez in the DRS zone, however, Pérez maneuvered his way back to the first position by going behind Hamilton and cutting him through the inside of turn 6.
After that turn, Hamilton came back and passed Pérez once again, but Pérez, now the one with DRS, found a gap off the track and won the first position back.
“That’s some dangerous driving,” Hamilton said over the radio.
Hamilton at last was able to overtake Pérez. Then, Pérez backed up and let Verstappen cut through. Thanks to Pérez’s defense and teamwork, Verstappen was less than a second and a half behind Hamilton.
“I think without Checo I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” said Verstappen. “It’s very rare to have a teammate like that and what he showed today, he was a real team player and I really hope we can continue this for a long time,” added Verstappen.
What to expect next season from Verstappen
In an interview at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keyne, Verstappen said that even though he feels as if he is calmer now after winning the title, he will still try to contest for future titles.
The day after the race, it was announced that Verstappen will change numbers for the 2022 season. Verstappen confirmed he will change from #33 to #1 on his Red Bull car.
“Yeah, I will run it,” he said. “How many times can you do that? I don’t know, maybe it’s the only time I can in my life. I think it’s the best number out there. I will definitely put it on the car.”