Max Verstappen Snatches Victory For Maiden F1 Title At Controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

(Image credit: Kamran Jebreili - Pool/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen snatched a maiden F1 title with a last-lap move to win a controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Verstappen made a slow getaway to allow Hamilton to lead after a controversial lunge on the opening lap, and the Brit retained his lead and looked destined for the title after the first round of pit-stops, despite having to overtake Sergio Perez to remain the lead on Lap 21.

A Virtual Safety Car (VSC) between laps 36-38 enabled Verstappen to make a second stop but the title looked set to slip from his grasp, as he struggled to catch Hamilton until Nicholas Latifi crashed on Lap 54 and the Safety Car was deployed.

Red Bull pitted Verstappen for soft tyres which left him stuck behind lapped cars but FIA Race Director, Michael Masi controversially decided to let lapped cars overtake the Safety Car as the Safety Car period concluded.

Verstappen consequently was able to overtake Hamilton into Turn Five on the final lap to clinch his maiden F1 title by six points, as he became the first non British or German driver to win the championship since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

Mercedes meanwhile secured an eighth consecutive constructors’ title by 30 points from Red Bull as Ferrari finished third ahead of McLaren and Alpine.

(Image credit: Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Pre-race, Nikita Mazepin was ruled out following a positive Coronavirus test which meant that only 19 drivers took the start.

At lights out, Verstappen on the soft tyres made a slow getaway as Hamilton leapt into the lead but Verstappen made a controversial lunge up the inside of Turn Six, which forced Hamilton wide and stewards ruled no investigation necessary.

Perez meanwhile moved above Lando Norris to third and set about sitting behind Verstappen until the latter and Hamilton pitted on Laps 14 and 15 respectively, which sparked a scrap on Lap 20 as Perez twice lost the lead to Hamilton but regained the lead into Turn Nine.

Hamilton though was able to get past a lap later with Perez letting Verstappen through but Hamilton was able to bridge a gap to his title rival, which put the title in Hamilton’s hands.

Kimi Raikkonen was competing in his final F1 race but his farewell ended on Lap 27 after he was forced to retire with a brake-by-wire issue, following a spin at Turn Six a lap earlier.

George Russell in his final race for Williams prior to his move to Mercedes next season was the next driver to retire just a lap later, after his power unit lost power.

Up front, Hamilton had built a five-second lead over Verstappen by Lap 36 when the VSC was deployed to recover Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo, which caused Red Bull to gamble on a second stop with Verstappen.

Verstappen however found himself 17s behind when the VSC ended on Lap 38 and was only able to reduce the deficit by just over 5s until Nicholas Latifi spun into the barriers at Turn 14, which triggered a Safety Car.

Verstappen consequently pitted for softs as Hamilton stayed out with three lapped cars between Hamilton and the Dutchman.

Masi initially stated that the lapped cars wouldn’t be allowed to overtake the Safety Car and re-join the pack, only to controversially instruct the five cars in-between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves but not other lapped cars as the Safety Car ended at start of the final lap.

Verstappen eventually made his soft tyres count as he dived up the inside of Turn Five to lead before fending off Hamilton to the line to trigger celebrations at Red Bull, as Mercedes raged with absolute fury at the ineptly incompetent handling by Masi of the restart.

Mercedes consequently lodged two separate protests under Articles 48.12 and 48.8 of the F1 regulations which threw the race result into potential doubt.

Stewards however rejected their latter protest concerning Verstappen fractionally overtaking Hamilton under the Safety Car on Lap 57, as they clarified that Verstappen was back behind Hamilton as they reached the Safety Car line on the restart so no penalty is necessary.

Following further conversations, stewards also dismissed Mercedes’ protest against the classified result concerning the basically illegal restart, although they noted that Article 48.12 ‘may not have been applied fully’ in regards to withdrawing the Safety Car at end of the same lap’.

Stewards however stated withdrawing the Safety Car is ‘mandatory’ once the message of “Safety Car in this lap.” is shown and Article 48.13 overrides Article 48.12 as a consequence.

Both dismissed appeals therefore meant that Verstappen was declared 2021 F1 champion by eight points from Hamilton after also claiming the fastest lap point.

Mercedes elsewhere won the constructors’ title by 28 points from Red Bull as Perez retired on Lap 55 with a power unit issue.

Position Driver Team Laps Time
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 58 1h 30m 17.345
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 + 2.256
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 58 + 5.173
4 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 58 + 5.692
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 58 + 6.531
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 58 + 7.463
7 Lando Norris McLaren 58 + 59.200
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine 58 + 61.708
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine 58 + 64.026
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 58 + 66.057
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 58 + 67.527
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 58 + 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 58 + 1 Lap
14 Mick Schumacher Haas 58 + 1 Lap
RET Sergio Perez Red Bull 55 Power Unit
RET Nicholas Latifi Williams 50 Spin
RET Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 33 Gearbox
RET George Russell Williams 36 Power
RET Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 25 Brakes

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