Max Verstappen says he has sympathy for Lewis Hamilton due the manner of his defeat in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that ended with the drivers’ championship being decided on the final lap.
Hamilton had led comfortably for the majority of the race before a Safety Car period with five laps to go closed the field up, and Verstappen pitting for new soft tires to try and attack. With only one racing lap possible and lapped cars cleared out of the way, Verstappen was able to overtake Hamilton on the final lap to win and secure a first championship, but he said he felt sorry for how things played out for his rival.
“Of course, on one side it was incredibly happy, and on one side it was disappointment,” Verstappen said. “Of course I felt for Lewis, he did everything right throughout the whole race.
“But F1 can be very unpredictable and of course it can go either way. It could have been the other way around where I was controlling the race and then I would lose it in the last lap. That’s unfortunately all part of racing.”
Mercedes was unhappy at the way the restart after the Safety Car period was handled – with some cars being told to unlap themselves, but not all – but Verstappen claims there was a precedent for a similar scenario earlier this season.
“That also happened in Baku this year with (Nikita) Mazepin, so for me that was a normal thing that happened,” he said. “Maybe people didn’t remember that, but it happened there, so they have done it before.”
While Mazepin did not catch the back of the pack after being allowed to unlap himself on that occasion, his was the only car a lap down that needed to be allowed to overtake the Safety Car, unlike the scenario in Abu Dhabi. Despite Mercedes’ protests on Sunday night, Verstappen says the wait for his title to be confirmed isn’t taking away from his enjoyment of the achievement.
“No. It’s quite typical looking at the season right?” he said. “So it is what it is. We were still happy and enjoying it. We, as a team, didn’t do anything wrong, we raced when there was a green light and a green flag, so we went for it and we did it on track. That for us (means) we were already enjoying it.”
Verstappen’s celebrations will be put on pause for at least 10 hours on Tuesday, however, as the new world champion will take part in the Pirelli tire test in Abu Dhabi in order to trial the new 18-inch tires ahead of 2022. There will be no Hamilton as George Russell completes duties for Mercedes, while Valtteri Bottas will make his Alfa Romeo debut on Tuesday before handing over to rookie teammate Guanyu Zhou on Wednesday.