Formula 1

Verstappen wins drivers’ championship after a controversial final lap at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

3 Mins read
Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to win the drivers’ championship at the 2021 Abu Dhabi  Grand Prix.  Carlos Sainz joined the title rivals on the podium.

The late crash of Nicholas Latifi brought out the Safety Car with five laps to go. As the laps were counting down, Race Control made a late decision to let the lapped cars to overtake and restarted the race with one lap to go.

On that final lap, Verstappen on a new set of tyres overtook Hamilton to win the race and take the drivers’ championship. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team has lodged a protest against the decisions made by Race Control in the final laps.

The race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi started as the sun was setting and the lights were taking hold with air temperatures at 25 degree C and track temperatures at 30 degree C.

The Pirelli tyre choice at this race is the white-striped hard compound tyres (C3), yellow-striped medium compound tyres (C4), and red-striped soft compound tyres (C5), the softest compounds in the Pirelli tyre range.

Verstappen started on pole position with Hamilton joining him on the front row. Lando Norris was on the second row with Sergio Pérez.

Carlos Sainz and Valtteri Bottas started on the third row. Charles Leclerc, Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top ten starting positions on the grid. Nikita Mazepin did not start the race as he tested positive for Covid.

Hamilton, Bottas and Tsunoda started on the medium compound tyres and the other drivers in the top ten were on the soft compound tyres.

Hamilton made a good start and led pole-sitter Verstappen into Turn 1. At Turn 6, Verstappen had the inside line and did not leave any space and Hamilton went off the track.

Hamilton rejoined in front of Verstappen and the stewards decided that Hamilton did not gain an advantage and no further action was needed. Behind them Norris ran wide and Pérez slotted into third position.

The order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Pérez, Norris, Sainz, Leclerc, Tsunoda , Bottas, Ocon, Ricciardo.

By the end of lap 3, Hamilton had built a gap of 1.5 seconds to Verstappen. Hamilton steadily extended his lead and the gap was more than five seconds by the end of lap 12.

On lap 14, Verstappen pitted for the hard compound tyres and rejoined behinds Sainz and Norris. On lap 15, Hamilton pitted and rejoined in second position behind Pérez.

The gap between Pérez and Hamilton was over ten seconds with Hamilton on his fresh tyres quickly catching Pérez. By lap 18, Verstappen had passed Sainz to take third position and was 8.4 seconds adrift of Hamilton.

Pérez had played the perfect team game in qualification and did the same in the race. When Hamilton passed him on lap 20, the Mexican put up a strong defence to retake the lead again. By the time Hamilton passed Pérez on lap 21, Verstappen was just 1.3 seconds behind Hamilton.

At the end of lap 25, the order was Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Pérez, Alonso, Gasly, Sainz, Norris, Leclerc, Tsunoda , Ocon.

On lap 27, Kimi Räikkönen retired from the race with brake issues and this brought down the final curtain on the 2007 world champion’s Formula 1 career. George Russell retired on the next lap with reliability issues.

On lap 36, Antonio Giovinazzi retired from the race and the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed. Verstappen and Pérez pitted under the VSC even as Hamilton stayed out to retain track position.

The gap between Hamilton and Verstappen was 17.9 seconds with Verstappen on new hard compound tyres and Hamilton on old tyres when the VSC period ended.

By the end of lap 45, the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen was 13.9 seconds and Hamilton looked on the way to victory and the drivers’ championship.

On lap 53 of 58 laps, Nicholas Latifi crashed and the Safety Car (SC) was deployed. Verstappen pitted for the soft compound tyres and rejoined in second position. Pérez retired from the race with reliability issues.

As the cars circulated behind the Safety Car, Race Control indicated that the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen – Norris, Alonso, Ocon, Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel will not unlap themselves.

But just before the Safety Car ended with one lap to go, these cars were asked to unlap themselves. Verstappen was right behind Hamilton on new tyres and the race was reduced to a final lap duel.

Verstappen overtook Hamilton and defended stoutly to cross the finish line 2.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen had won the drivers’ championship for the first time and is the first Dutch driver to win the championship.

The epic struggle between Hamilton and Verstappen had ended on the final lap under controversial circumstances which will be debated for a very long time.

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Results:

PosNoDriverNat.CarTime/RetiredPTSLaps
133Max VerstappenNEDRed Bull Racing1:30:17.3452658
244Lewis HamiltonGBRMercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team+2.256s1858
355Carlos SainzESPScuderia Ferrari+5.173s1558
422Yuki TsunodaJAPScuderia AlphaTauri Honda+5.692s1258
510Pierre GaslyFRAScuderia AlphaTauri Honda+6.531s1058
677Valtteri BottasFINMercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team+7.463s858
74Lando NorrisGBRMcLaren F1 Team+59.200s658
814Fernando AlonsoESPAlpine F1 Team+61.708s458
931Esteban OconFRAAlpine F1 Team+64.026s258
1016Charles LeclercMONScuderia Ferrari+66.057s158
115Sebastian VettelGERAston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team+67.527s058
123Daniel RicciardoAUSMcLaren F1 Team+1 lap057
1318Lance StrollCANAston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team+1 lap057
1447Mick SchumacherGERUralkali Haas F1 Team+1 lap057
1511Sergio PerezMEXRed Bull RacingDNF055
NC6Nicholas LatifiCANWilliams RacingDNF050
NC99Antonio GiovinazziITAAlfa Romeo Racing ORLENDNF033
NC63George RussellGBRWilliams RacingDNF026
NC7Kimi RäikkönenFINAlfa Romeo Racing ORLENDNF025
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