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Max Verstappen, you are the World Champion. With these words from Gianpiero Lambiase (race engineer of the Dutch driver), the 2021 F1 World Championship ended. ‘Super Max’ triumphed over defending champion Lewis Hamilton. The incredible season has already gone down in history as it was only decided on the last lap of the last race. And it is from here that we continue telling the story of this exciting championship, full of twists and turns. In the spirit of the best Hollywood blockbusters, the two contenders arrived at the last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi on equal points after 21 races.
This weekend of intense action on the Yas Marina circuit highlighted the fantastic form of Hamilton and the Mercedes right from free practice. On the other hand, the difficulties of the Red Bull team seemed as clear. Despite these difficulties, however, the pole position was won by Max Verstappen. Hamilton, who until then had seemed more competitive, had to settle for second place on the grid, with doubts over how to overtake his rival at the start.
As usual, nothing happened as expected before the race. After the first corner, because of a terrible start by Verstappen, Hamilton took the lead. The British driver forced the Dutchman into a deep braking move at Turn 6 to try and get back into the first position. At that point, Hamilton – in his own words to avoid contact – took the escape route, cutting the corner, maintaining the first position and gaining over a second’s lead over his rival. There was no point in the Red Bull team’s complaints, asking Lewis to give up his position to Max. For Michael Masi and the stewards, no investigation was necessary. Thus, controversy immediately arose against the race direction, too often a negative protagonist during the entire championship.
During the GP, the superiority of Mercedes was evident. Perez’s strenuous defence to slow down the Mercedes driver after the pit stop and bring Verstappen closer was in vain. Red Bull’s desperate stop in the pits to fit its driver with new tyres to close the gap with Lewis was also pointless. When the outcome of the World Championship seemed clear, here was the twist that all the orange fans had been waiting for. The cameras framed Nicholas Latifi’s Williams, crashed into the wall. We’re on lap 53, of the 58 scheduled. The race direction brings in the safety car. Red Bull reacted immediately by calling Verstappen back to the pits to fit him with red tyres. Hamilton has no choice but to stay out with his white tyres, now pretty worn out. The cars regroup but work to remove the Williams are slow. The suspicion is growing that the race could end under a safety car, ensuring Hamilton’s place as world champion.
Latifi’s car is finally taken off the track, but the remaining laps are fewer and fewer. Between Hamilton and Verstappen, there are four lapped cars. Only on the second-to-last lap, they are allowed to overtake the safety car. So here we are, ready to live a last lap of fire with the two contenders one attached to the other. Hamilton tries to slow down the restart, with Verstappen flanking him as if to push him. Once the green light comes on, the British driver manages to keep the head of the race. But in turn 5, Max, thanks to his much better-performing tyres, completes the overtaking. He defends himself and conquers victory and the world champion title for the first time in his career. At Red Bull’s celebrations exploded, while in the Mercedes box Toto Wolff was furious. The boss of the Stuttgart team opened to Michael Masi on the radio, attacking him for his decision to restart the race. Hamilton himself, after the chequered flag, complains with his engineers. His team radio was never heard on TV. Hamilton’s insinuation that the final result was a farce demonstrates Mercedes’ inability to lose and the hypocrisy of his end-of-race declarations in front of microphones and cameras.
However, the world title issue did not end on the track, as Mercedes filed several appeals after the race. One, concerning the restart of the race after the safety car and the lapped drivers’ issue, is still being studied. As of today, however, Max Verstappen remains the reigning champion. The judges could overturn everything, but the possibility is unlikely. The controversy exploded on social media, as well as the disappointment for a race direction that was not up to the situation and that ruined a hard-fought and exciting World Championship as it had not been for years. Overall, however, Verstappen’s victory was well deserved, with figures that speak for themselves: 10 poles for the Dutchman compared to Lewis’s 5, while Max has 10 wins compared to the British driver’s 8. During the season, Mercedes proved to own the strongest car. The victory of the Constructors’ Championship is the proof. The German team provided Hamilton with an extraordinary engine for the final rounds of the season. The engine allowed the British driver to get back into the race in the World Championship, which after the Mexican GP seemed to be one step away from being closed in favour of Verstappen. Red Bull, in turn, did a great job, but the Honda engine suffered more in the final part of the season and was not at the level of the Mercedes engine.
The 2021 World Championship has shown itself as one of the most exciting in the history of this fantastic sport. We have now a three-month break ahead of us before we return to Bahrain on the 18th of March for the first official round of the 2022 season. Before Bahrein, winter testing will let us discover the new cars and the new hierarchies on track.
See you soon F1!