Max Verstappen won his first world championship after an incredible one-lap shootout to finish the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2021 Formula 1 season.
Lewis Hamilton looked to have won a record eighth drivers’ championship with only a few laps to go, but a late safety car changed the dynamic of the race and Verstappen made his move on fresher tyres to take the title.
The two contenders entered the final race of a sensational campaign tied on points and the Yas Marina Circuit witnessed a finale for the ages as Verstappen became a world champion for the first time and Mercedes kept the constructors’ championship.
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A slow start by Verstappen saw Hamilton take the lead off the line, but the two drivers touched into Turn 7 as the Dutchman lunged down the inside. This forced Hamilton off the track, raising a question over whether or not he gained an advantage.
The stewards decided no investigation was necessary with Hamilton slowing to give back the time advantage he gained over Verstappen. This, however, did not appease Red Bull who continued with their protests to race director Michael Masi.
Sergio Perez did an excellent job of holding up Hamilton after pit stops by Mercedes and Verstappen, narrowing the gap between the two title rivals to under two seconds and breathing new life into the race.
A virtual safety car following Antonio Giovinazzi’s retirement from the race gave Verstappen the chance to pit for a second time as Red Bull rolled the dice with their title hopes slipping away.
Verstappen’s superior pace on the fresh tyres saw the 24-year-old close the gap on Hamilton from 18 to 13 seconds within just a few laps, raising the prospect of a dramatic finale.
Just as it appeared Hamilton had seen off Verstappen a Nicholas Latifi crash brought out the safety car, bunching up the pack. Red Bull rolled the dice once more by putting Verstappen on a set of soft tyres and it worked as their driver picked off Hamilton and took the chequered flag.
Mercedes launched an appeal following the race, but this was dismissed by the stewards, confirming the Dutchman's historic maiden title.

DRIVER OF THE DAY - Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

Driver of the day, driver of the season. Verstappen might have pushed the boundaries at times in 2021, but the Dutchman needed to do this to challenge Hamilton, arguably the greatest F1 driver of all time. This race demonstrated all that makes Verstappen so special. Even when the race, and the championship, looked to have got away from the 24-year-old, he maintained his focus and pulled off an incredible last lap overtake.

Race winner Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team

Image credit: Getty Images

WHERE THE RACE WAS WON

1/58 - Lights out! Hamilton leads! The Red Bull got off slowly from the line, Hamilton took advantage, but then Verstappen went for Hamilton into Turn 7. They touch! Hamilton still has the position, but will he have to give it back?!
3/58 - Hamilton keeps the place! The stewards have decided that no investigation is necessary and apparently Hamilton gave back the advantage he gained by taking the escape route across Turn 7. Red Bull won't be happy about that!
14/58 - Verstappen on to hard tyres! Red Bull had to do something because Hamilton was pulling out a second on Verstappen per lap and so Verstappen has been moved on to the hard compound tyres. What difference will that make?
20/58 - What a duel! Perez is doing an exceptional job of frustrating Hamilton with the Mexican ducking and diving around a full lap. The two drivers swapped positions more than once and by the time Hamilton makes it stick, the gap on Verstappen behind him has been reduced to under two seconds!
54/58 - Safety car! Latifi has crashed! That could change the complexion of this race! Latifi is in the barriers and they're going to need a full safety car to help clean that up. We might still get some laps of racing to finish this race!
55/58 - Verstappen on softs! Red Bull have rolled the dice again and Verstappen is now on the soft tyres while Hamilton has stayed out again! Will we get any racing to finish this race or will it end under the safety car?
58/58 - Verstappen takes Hamilton! This race has had the script flipped in the final race! Verstappen might have won this!
Verstappen is world champion! The Dutch driver wins the one-lap shootout and Verstappen is a world champion! What an incredible end to the season! It went down to the final lap! Mercedes will be aggrieved about how it ended and the safety car controversy, but Verstappen kept his head in the game and came out on top!

Max Verstappen

Image credit: Getty Images

PIT EXCHANGE OF THE DAY

With 10 laps to go of the race, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Verstappen needed “a miracle”. He went on to say that the Dutch driver needed some help from “the racing gods”, and that’s exactly what he got with the late safety car and the way the pit stops favoured Verstappen.

Verstappen

Image credit: Getty Images

BEST OVERTAKE OF THE DAY

Technically, there were better overtakes on the day, but Verstappen’s move on Hamilton in the final race of the final season will be remembered as one of the great moments in F1 history. It summed up the drama and excitement of the 2021 season and proved Verstappen’s credentials as a world champion.
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