Max Verstappen came out of a Formula 1 season like no other as a worthy world champion, the Dutch driver taking the crown to Lewis Hamilton in the last lap of the final race on Sunday.
The road to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was marked by some dramatic moments, but no one could have predicted that the best would be saved for last.
Tension spread from the track to the marshals room when Mercedes lodged appeals against the result, both of which were dismissed.
The German team, which had the consolation of winning an unprecedented eighth consecutive constructors ‘title, has announced its intention to file a last resort, so that the drivers’ title can still end in the hands of lawyers.
With a handful of laps to go for the title, Hamilton got their hands on an unprecedented eighth world title.
As the 36-year-old Briton headed for a victory that would have improved Michael Schumacher’s seven world crowns, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “We need a miracle.”
It was about the improbable form of Nicholas Latifi, who crushed his Williams with four laps to go, triggering the appearance of the safety car. Verstappen quickly came to the pit for new tires, unlike Hamilton.
When the race resumed for the 58th and final lap, Verstappen on his new tires overtook Hamilton to win the checkered flag and his first title, sparking joy on the Red Bull pit wall and fury at Mercedes.
As 24-year-old Verstappen celebrated, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff scoured FIA regulations to check protocol on safety car procedures.
Indeed, the men of Mercedes have filed appeals against the result.
– Protest rejected –
Long after spectators left the Yas Marina track, an FIA hearing delivered its verdict, dismissing protests to confirm Verstappen as the first Dutchman to lift the crown.
But the deal could rumble for days, with Mercedes confident they have a valid case.
Latifi’s accident and the safety car that followed had effectively set up a one-lap âshootoutâ for the title.
Verstappen and Hamilton started the wheel-to-wheel lap, but the Red Bull rider pulled away to take the checkered flag.
It was an irresistible end to a Championship for the Ages, played over 22 spellbinding acts from Bahrain to Baku, Austin to Abu Dhabi.
âIt’s crazy,â Verstappen said. “My goal when I was little was to be a Formula 1 driver. You dream of podiums and victories. But when they tell you you’re world champion, it’s amazing.”
Hamilton was magnanimous in the loss, embracing his nemesis and saying, âCongratulations to Max and his team.
“We gave it our all this last part of the season and never gave up, that’s the most important thing.”
Verstappen and Hamilton had approached the outcome of the winner at desert level in points. It was the first time that two title rivals had held this position since 1974.
This was due to Hamilton’s end-of-season run, which started in Brazil when he defied the odds and overcame a pile of penalty points. He kept the momentum going in Qatar and again in the chaos of the Saudi Grand Prix.
Rightly so, the title’s protagonists filled the front row in Abu Dhabi with Verstappen on pole after a lap in qualifying.
But Hamilton got off to a blinding start, beating Verstappen at the first corner.
The Dutch driver rushed to regain the lead at turn seven, forcing his big rival off the track.
The Briton came back on top, but the race marshals controversially ruled that no investigation was necessary, sparking disbelief within the Red Bull compound.
After several pit stops, a barnstorming performance by Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez to frustrate Hamilton when the Mexican temporarily held the lead, and a virtual safety car, it looked like Hamilton would emerge victorious.
But this magical season still had one last trick up its sleeve, leaving a talented and pugnacious Verstappen to oust Hamilton.
Verstappen fans in the Netherlands were overjoyed.
“What an incredible ending. I lost my voice,” said Tom Alsem, 30, wearing head-to-toe orange at a bar in The Hague.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted that it was “a historic day for Dutch sport”.
pel / nr / gj