If there was one sporting spectacle you should have witnessed this year, it was most definitely the final race of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi, where Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) battled it out for the coveted World Championship, both coming into the race tied on 369.5 points each.
And boy did this nail-biter deliver, going down as arguably one of the greatest, and most controversial, moments in Formula One history.
Here’s how it played out.
In what was already a highly heated F1 racing season full of drama and controversy at every turn of every race, it was fitting that the championship title lay bare for two teams to take it away at the final lap of the final race of the season.
Verstappen and Hamilton entered the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on equal points, something that has only happened once before in the 71-years of racing history.
With tensions high, viewers from around the world knew they were going to get a remarkable race for the ages.
After a gruelling qualifying session on the Saturday, leaving Max Verstappen to pole followed by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Sunday’s race was set with the world eagerly watching.
The first lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix did not disappoint, with Hamilton making a better start than Verstappen to take the lead into Turn 1. Interestingly, the last six races held at Abu Dhabi saw the leader of Qualifying go on to win the race, as it is an extremely difficult circuit to overtake.
While the opening lap was full of thrill and action, it wasn’t until Turn 6 that had viewers gasping. As Verstappen closed in on Hamilton, he manouvered to the inside of the Mercedes in an attempt to shut Hamilton out and overtake. Now, we’ve seen this move plenty of times this season, most often resulting in a collision or penalty of sorts. This time around, while his move was late but legal, Hamilton was forced wide and able to cut the corner at the chicane before retaking the lead.
The F1 stewards deemed the incident ‘no investigation necessary’, deciding that Verstappen gained an advantage by forcing Hamilton off the grid, which he then simply neutralised by cutting the corner.
The race continued with Hamilton increasing his lead as time went on. With a few tactical pits stops for both Verstappen and Hamilton (tyre changes) at Laps 13 and 15 respectively, Hamilton rejoined the circuit behind Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, but still 4.8 seconds ahead of Verstappen – a league away in a Formula One race.
With Hamilton’s lead growing to 8 seconds in front of Verstappen, Perez played the team game and reduced Hamilton’s lead time, allowing Verstappen to catch up considerably.
Hamilton held a comfortable lead for most of the race, until Lap 53 when Nicholas Latifi of Williams Racing crashed, leading to the deployment of a safety car to the track. What does this mean, exactly? Essentially, any gap held between the leading driver would be reduced to zero.
With the safety car deployed, in an effort to not lose his leading position, Hamilton was unable to pit (since Lap 17), leaving him to remain on old tyres with four laps to go.
Verstappen, however, made a one last pit stop, switching to fresh, soft tyres in a bid to takeover Hamilton one last time this season.
For viewers, this was a stomach-churning experience, similar to the moment in a film right before its ultimate twist ending.
There were five cars between first-place Hamilton and second-place Verstappen. Race officials initially decided those lapped cars could not overtake the safety car.
But here’s the most controversial point of the race: in a surprising twist, officials then tell the lapped cars they could pass the safety car, essentially putting Verstappen directly behind his season-long rival for a one last lap shootout to the finish line.
Sure enough, Verstappen made his move to overtake Hamilton into Turn 5 of the final lap, prevailing and eventually holding off to clinch his first ever Formula One World Championship.
Verstappen passes Hamilton on the final lap!
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
It seems fitting that this was the only way for this race to finish – a story that, nonetheless, seems to reflect the entirety of this F1 season.
This is just unbelievable. I started racing with my dad many years ago. We dreamed of becoming a World Champion and now we are.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 12, 2021
Lewis Hamilton, a true champion of the sport and ever-so humble, congratulated Max Verstappen on his momentous victory, shaking hands and hugging the champion.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the 36-year-old seven-time Formula One World Champion, who, just overnight, received his Knighthood by the Prince of Wales for his services to motorsport at a ceremony at Windsor Castle, becoming Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton. Hear, hear!
🏎️ Arise Sir @LewisHamilton!
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) December 15, 2021
What are thoughts on that race? Let us know in the comments.