Max Verstappen snatched the world drivers’ title from Lewis Hamilton in the hugely dramatic circumstances, overtaking on the last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
It appeared the Mercedes team had the edge over Red Bull and had played its strategy perfectly, until a late safety car closed up the pack due to Nicholas Latifi crashing.
Only a few lapped cars were allowed to overtake, causing confusion and controversy as the Dutchman used the one lap of green flag running at the end to overtake Hamilton and win the race.
The Mercedes team took the constructors’ title but simply sat shell-shocked as the Red Bull team celebrated, breaking seven years of Brackley dominance.
Hamilton rocketed off the line to get a better start than Verstappen, leading in to the first corner, as Lando Norris ran wide and fell to fifth.
The Dutchman tracked the Mercedes closely in the first few corners, diving down the inside but forcing Hamilton off the track.
The Mercedes rejoined the track still in the lead, as Verstappen claimed he needed to be given the position. Hamilton was first with Verstappen second and Perez third by the end of lap one.
The stewards announced there was no investigation necessary as Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley argued with Michael Masi – by lap three Hamilton had pulled out a 1.3sec a lead.
The gap only increased to 1.7sec on the next tour and 1.9sec on the fifth.
The running settled down for the most part, but the duelling Aston Martins traded places, with Sebastian Vettel drafting past Lance Stroll on the back straight for 14th.
Christian Horner complained of “complete inconsistency” with Red Bull still complaining to Masi, who had to again give his reasons to Verstappen’s pitwall.
On lap nine Verstappen radioed in to say “Rears are starting to struggle a bit” as his soft tyres lost grip.
At the back end of the field George Russell was still last by lap 10, but within a second of Mick Schumacher.
Lap 11 and Hamilton clocked yet another fastest lap – 1min 28.216sec – as he extended his lead to 3.4sec. “These are great laps, Lewis, keep it up,” his race engineer Bono told him.
Mick Schumacher was the first driver to pit on lap 12, his Haas taking on hard tyres.
“We are losing gears. This might continue to happen,” Lando Norris was told on lap 13.
Verstappen, who was now almost 6sec behind Hamilton, finally shod his ailing rubber on lap 14 to take on the hard tyres.
When the Dutchman came out, his Red Bull forced Charles Leclerc to lose downforce; the Ferrari driver had a lurid moment and went off, losing seventh place to Yuki Tsunoda.
Hamilton came in a lap later in reaction to Red Bull, coming back out in second whilst Sergio Perez was told “Plan B” by his team, a plan that involved him staying out as Hamilton caught him.
Leclerc came in on lap 16, his 3.4sec stop caused by a slightly sticking left rear wheel.
Hamilton was now tracking down Perez, setting the fastest lap of 1min 27.780sec.
Verstappen then had a moment of his own, a snap of oversteer at the last corner hitting him but he rejoined safely as he tried in vain to put pressure on Carlos Sainz.
Norris pitted on lap 18, whilst Verstappen slipstreamed up the inside of Sainz, passing him at the chicane. The Spaniard had a half-hearted attempt to repass on the next straight, but the Dutchman had him covered.
Lap 19 saw Daniel Ricciardo pitting for new tyres, coming back out in 17th.
On the next lap Hamilton began tussling with Perez. The two traded places over the next half a lap, as Verstappen closed in.
Half way through lap 21, Hamilton finally got past, with Perez also moving out the way for Verstappen – the Dutchman had now closed in to 1.6sec.
“Checo is a legend,” said Verstappen to his team.
Kimi Räikkönen made the last scheduled pit stop of his F1 career on lap 22, remerging in 18th.
Lap 24 and Tsunoda came in, filing into 10th as he came back out.
It emerged on lap 26 that Wolff had radioed into to Masi to say “This is a bit dangerous.” on the Perez – Hamilton fight.
The same lap saw Räikkönen damage his front wing – it emerged his brakes had stopped functioning properly. ‘The Iceman’s’ race – and F1 career came to an end.
There was more action as at the same time Russell told his team “No power” – he also came into retire.
On lap 29, Hamilton told his team “It’s a long way for these tyres to go” as several pondered pitstop strategy.
The Brit didn’t appear hampered by tyre age though, as he then began pumping in fastest laps, clocking a 1min 27.484sec at the start of lap 30.
Bottas pitted on the tour, taking on hard tyres and looking to go to the end.
The Finn immediately began pressuring Leclerc when he came out, the Monegasque locking up as he attempted to hold off the Mercedes.
Bottas then got in the slipstream of the Ferrari on both straights on lap 32, Leclerc weaving slightly as he managed to keep the Finn at arms length.
Hamilton was asked by his team which tyres he would prefer – medium or hard – were a “safety car” to come out, replying that both “felt good”, as Bottas finally managed to get past Leclerc on lap 35.
Giovinazzi was told “No shifting” – the other Alfa Romeo pulled off and was out of the race. Lap 36 therefore saw the virtual safety car come out.
Leclerc took the opportunity to take on tyres, as did Verstappen, the Red Bull fitting a brand new set of hards.
The VSC then ended on lap 38, with the Dutchman then setting out to hunt down his title rival, the gap now 17sec.
He now set a fastest lap of 1min 26.321sec, Red Bull’s alternate pit strategy appearing to be going top plan.
Tsunoda and Alonso began duelling, the Alpine going off track in his attempt to overtake.
Hamilton told his team he couldn’t keep up the pace he was doing to hold off Verstappen on lap 41, as Gasly now passed Alonso.
Bottas began to pressure the McLaren of Norris as the cars hit lap 44, while Hamilton was warned of backmarkers ahead – the gap between the title contenders was now 13.7sec.
The Mercedes driver asked how the gap had come down to 12sec, as Bono attempted to placate his driver.
Norris pitted on lap 49 due to a slow puncture, dropping him down order to tenth, with Hamilton warned to avoid the cars to preserve his ageing tyres.
The McLaren driver immediately made progress when he came out, passing both Alpines to move up to eighth.
The drama then erupted on lap 54 – Nicholas Latifi crashed towards the end of the circuit, bringing out the safety car.
Hamilton swore loudly on the radio as Verstappen came in for soft tyres, as several other made changes.
Bono once more had to placate a fretting Hamilton, who feared his title might be lost upon the restart.
Perez came in again lap 56 as his team retired the car – meaning as it stood Mercedes were constructors’ champions.
When it was announced that lapped cars weren’t allowed to overtake and reform the field, Verstappen responded by saying “Typical decision.”
It was then announced the safety car was coming in – and lapped cars could now overtake, but only five did – as on the last lap as a steeple chase began.
Verstappen was ominously tracking Hamilton throughout the lap, getting past at the first hairpin.
Hamilton attempted to get past, but to no avail – Verstappen held on and became world champion.
2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race results
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||58 laps||26*|
|8||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||+1min 01.708sec||4|
|9||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+1min 04.026sec||2|
|10||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+1min 06.057sec||1|
|11||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+1min 07.527sec|
|12||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||+1 lap|
|13||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+1 lap|
|14||Mick Schumacher||Haas||+1 lap|
|15||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||DNF|
|17||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||DNF|
|19||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo||DNF|
*extra point awarded for fastest lap