Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and sensationally claim the 2021 Formula 1 world championship.
The Dutchman had been on course for a sound defeat to Hamilton, who jumped Verstappen off the line and controlled the race, until five laps from the finish, when a safety car was deployed to clean up Nicholas Latifi’s wrecked Williams, which had come to a crashed end in the barriers at Turn 14.
Hamilton didn’t have the margin on Verstappen to make a safety stop, gifting the Dutchman a free switch to a set of softs to combat the Briton’s badly worn hard rubber.
It was touch and go as to whether the race could be resumed. Race control at first said lapped cars wouldn’t be allowed to unlap themselves in the interests of getting action back underway, but then three lap-down cars splitting Verstappen from Hamilton were allowed to get ahead of the safety car on the penultimate lap, enabling one final lap to be run.
With a severe grip disadvantage Hamilton was a sitting duck, and Verstappen lunged for the lead into Turn 5, emerging with the lead. Hamilton attempted to fight back down the two back straights and into Turn 9, but he couldn’t get onto the brakes as late as his rival.
With only the twisty last sector to go, Verstappen was out of danger and clear to take the checkered flag and his first world title.
A dream come true for @Max33Verstappen as he crosses the line in Abu Dhabi 👀
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Through the whole race I kept fighting, then the opportunity in the last lap — it’s incredible.
“It don’t know what to say. My guys in the team and of course Honda as well deserve it.
“To the team, I think they know I love them, and I hope we can do this for 10 15 years together. There’s no reason to change ever.”
Hamilton was distraught to have lost the crown after having controlled the race. The Briton was perfect at lights out to seize the lead from the polesitter, and he held first place despite Verstappen scything down his inside at Turn 6. He was forced off the road and cut Turn 7, emerging with an enhanced advantage.
Red Bull Racing Red Bull Racing was immediately onto the phone to race control to demand Hamilton cede position, but the stewards were disinclined to investigate, and race director Michael Masi was content with the Briton slowing enough to neutralize the time he gained by cutting the track while maintaining the lead.
“That is incredible,” Verstappen radioed. “What are they doing here?”
Hamilton had the pace to control the race from there, covering Verstappen’s early stop on lap 13 and surviving a superb lap and a half of Sergio Perez defending.
Epic stuff at the front as race leader Sergio Perez battles hard to keep Lewis Hamilton frustrated
Hamilton eventually gets past to take P1, but his lead over Verstappen is cut to two seconds
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
The Mexican, who was left out to delay Hamilton’s progress, dueled him wheel to wheel through lap 20 until the Briton finally barged through on the following tour to rebuild his lead and proceed to grind out a decisive victory — until the fateful safety car.
“Firstly, a big congratulations to Max and to his team,” the despondent Hamilton said. “I think we did an amazing job this year. My team and everyone back at the factory … worked so hard this whole year. It’s been the most difficult of seasons. I’m so proud of them.
“We gave it everything. This last part of the season we gave it absolutely everything. We never gave up, and that’s the most important thing.”
Carlos Sainz took third place after Sergio Perez retired with a technical issue during the safety car, ending an impressive first season at Ferrari by beating teammate Charles Leclerc in the championship standings.
“I’ll definitely take it, especially after everything that unraveled in that race with the late safety car,” he said. “A podium to end a mighty first season for me, for Ferrari, P5 in the championship — I think I took it on today and definitely enjoyed it.”
AlphaTauri finished fourth and fifth with Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly, but it wasn’t enough to jump Alpine for fifth in the constructors standings.
Valtteri Bottas wound up sixth, gaining places behind the safety car after a lackluster final race for Mercedes had him languishing lower in the points for much of the evening, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, whose race was spoiled by a slow puncture halfway through the grand prix.
Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were eighth and ninth, with Charles Leclerc scoring the final point of the season for Ferrari.