Verstappen becomes just Red Bull’s second-ever champion after fortune falls his way with late Safety Car and last-lap overtake at F1’s dramatic finale; “When you stand here and they tell you that you are the world champion, it’s something incredible”
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 12/12/21 10:46pm
Max Verstappen reflected on the “incredible” way he clinched his maiden F1 title as the Dutchman finally realised his dream of becoming world champion after an extraordinary Abu Dhabi GP.
In the most thrilling yet controversial of climaxes to an epic title duel, Verstappen and Hamilton’s battle effectively boiled down to a one-lap shootout on the 1,297th and final lap of the season after a late Safety Car wiped out the Mercedes driver’s comfortable race lead.
With the advantage of new tyres, and a clear run at Hamilton after lapped cars between them were told to pass the Safety Car in a move that angered Mercedes and led to a post-race protest and continues with a subsequent intention to appeal, Verstappen took his first chance to pass his British rival with a bold move down the inside at Turn Five.
Mercedes have until Thursday to formalise any official challenge to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal.
Verstappen is the first Dutch driver to win the title in the sport’s 72-season history and just Red Bull’s second champion after Sebastian Vettel, who won his last of four titles for them eight years ago.
“An insane end to the season, for sure,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.
“We were clearly lacking a bit of pace so that was a bit of a problem of course, but we never gave up. We just tried to keep the gap close and then everything unfolded in that last lap.”
He added in the press conference: “I didn’t see it coming and then you have that opportunity on the last lap. Yeah, insane, and an incredible feeling for everyone in the team.”
Verstappen reacts to the news that F1 stewards rejected both of Mercedes’ protests to confirm him as world champion for the first time. Warning: These pictures contain flash photography
Verstappen’s first F1 title in his seventh season completes his transformation from young teenage protege to world champion, the 34th in the sport’s history.
After just one season of car racing, Verstappen was hired by Red Bull in 2015 to race for their junior team in F1 aged 17, and a year later was promoted to their senior outfit, winning on his debut in Spain.
The son of former Benetton and Arrows driver Jos, who claimed two podiums in 106 starts between 1994 and 2003, Verstappen told Sky F1’s Jenson Button: “My goal when I was little was of course to become a Formula 1 driver.
“You hope for wins, you hope to be on the podium. When they play the national anthem, you hope they one day play yours and when you stand here and they tell you that you are the world champion, it’s something incredible.
“Especially also with my dad, the special moment we also had here. All the things come back through your mind; all the years where you spent together travelling for that goal. Then you’re here together and everything comes together in the last lap.”
Verstappen also paid tribute to his Red Bull team and the bosses who promoted him five years ago.
“I think they know I love them and I hope we can do this for 10-15 years together,” said Verstappen, whose current Red Bull contract runs to the end of 2023.
“There is no reason to change, ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life, I hope they let me.
“Christian [Horner] and Helmut [Marko] trusting me to be in this team in 2016. Our goal of course was to win this championship and now we’ve done that.”
Verstappen’s words of praise for Hamilton
The Dutchman’s first crown certainly carries significant weight given he overcame the hugely-successful Hamilton and Mercedes combination to win it.
Making Hamilton wait at least another year for a record eighth drivers’ crown, Verstappen ends the Briton’s four-year reign as world champion. Their title rivalry has been intense, unpredictable and contained three especially controversial collisions (Silverstone, Monza and Jeddah) but Verstappen offered words of praise for the “amazing” Briton, the sport’s most successful driver, after the race.
“It has been an incredible battle,” said Verstappen, who had gone into the finale level on points with Hamilton having led by 21 as recently as last month.
“Lewis is an amazing driver, he’s shown that every single year. Over the whole season of course we had our moments, but I think that’s also racing and especially people go to the limit to try and win this championship. But overall we have a lot of respect for each other and hopefully we can do this for many more years.”