Christian Horner felt Max Verstappen caught the lucky break he needed in the final few laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that enabled the Red Bull Racing driver to clinch his maiden Drivers’ Championship on Sunday.
Verstappen had looked unlikely to take the title as title rival Lewis Hamilton appeared to have the race under control, but Nicholas Latifi’s crash with just six laps remaining at the Yas Marina Circuit turned the race on its head.
Once the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were cleared – controversially in the eyes of many including those within the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team – the tyre advantage that Verstappen had gave him the shot at passing Hamilton, which he did into the turn five hairpin, much to the delight of Team Principal Horner.
Horner did take the time to praise Hamilton for being a ‘phenomenal’ rival all season long, and defeating the seven-time World Champion makes Verstappen’s triumph even better.
“I said it was going need something from the racing Gods in the last ten laps and thank goodness for that safety car,” said Horner. “It has been a great competition this season and for Max to win the World Championship, it is not just about the race here, it is about the whole year and how incredible and consistent he has been as a driver.
“All credit to Lewis too, he has been a phenomenal opponent all year and a great World Champion, he has been formidable and that is what makes it even more of a monumental achievement to win this.
“This Championship came down to the last lap and it was a great strategy call by the Team to make that pit stop onto the set of softs and then it was down to Max to make it happen, which he did in typical Max style.
“I was screaming from turn five all the way down that back straight. He got the job done. I am just so proud of Max and the team for what we’ve been through this year and what we have achieved against some fierce and great opponents.”
“Checo was the perfect team-mate today”
Horner says Sergio Pérez proved once again to be the perfect team-mate to Verstappen on Sunday, with the Mexican holding up Hamilton for a whole lap despite running on much older and well used tyres.
Without that, and the way the team worked throughout the weekend in Abu Dhabi, Horner believes Verstappen would have fallen short on taking the title, even with the safety car.
“Checo was the perfect team-mate today, what he did keeping Lewis behind, on totally worn tyres, was just super driving,” Horner added.
“Without him today Max probably wouldn’t be World Champion, the whole Team executed their strategy, flawlessly.”
Horner believes Verstappen won the World Championship on merit after a strong 2021 season, and he also took time to thank Honda for providing the power that took them to the title as they bow out of the sport, at least on an official basis after this year.
“On balance after 22 races we have won this World Championship on the facts,” he said. “I would also like to thank Honda for their teamwork and support over the last few years.
“We will continue our partnership in a different way, but we look forward to continuing the success.”