Max Verstappen became the first Dutchman ever to win the Formula One World Championship title when he won a dramatic season-end Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. The Red Bull rider used a second safety car to overtake seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the final lap after Nicholas Latifi crashed. Verstappen and Hamilton, who went into points at the race level, went wheel after wheel to the checkered flag with the Dutchman leading the race to the edge of the race. A championship for centuries, played out over 22 game-binding acts, came down to the final lap of the final race.
Until then, Hamilton had his eighth world title seemingly in his pocket, prompting Red Bull team chief Christian Horner to say, “We need a miracle.”
It came in the unlikely form of Latifi, who crashed his Williams, with Verstappen immediately searching for fresh tires.
When racing resumed for the 58th and final laps, Verstappen walked past Hamilton to take the checkered flag, which sparked joy on the Red Bull pit wall and anger against Mercedes.
“It’s insane,” Verstappen said after the race. “The guys at my team, at Honda, I love them so much. Finally, a little luck for me.”
Verstappen and Hamilton approached the winner-take-all unraveling in the desert level on points, for the first time since 1974 when Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni went neck and neck in the final race.
Appropriately, the title protagonists filled the front row, Verstappen on pole after his majestic flying round in qualifying.
But Hamilton got a dazzling start and beat Verstappen to the first turn.
The Dutch rider jumped to regain the lead on Turn Seven, which forced his arch-enemy off the track.
The Briton rejoined the front, but the race drivers controversially decided no investigation was needed, which sparked outrage among the Red Bull team leaders.
“We’re a little shocked,” Horner says.
“It’s amazing, what are they doing here?” Verstappen complained about the team radio.
After a dozen laps, Hamilton, on medium tires, pulled more than five seconds off Verstappen while struggling to fit on soft tires.
The Dutchman was drawn in lap 14 to switch to hard tires and rejoined in fifth place.
A round of drama
Mercedes, with the luxury now of following Red Bull’s strategy, then boxed Hamilton for a lightning pit stop.
He also came back in second place, behind Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari ahead of Verstappen, who soon had the Spaniard’s partner.
Perez then showed himself the ultimate teammate, frustrating Hamilton’s numerous attempts to overtake, which allowed Vertstappen to close the gap.
Hamilton finally hit the lead, with Perez ceding his place to Verstappen.
“Checo is a legend,” an appreciative Verstappen said on team radio.
Halfway through, with the night falling, Kimi Raikkonen’s race ended, the 2007 world champion retired from his Alfa Romeo and retired to a record of 249 races.
Back on the track, the gap between the leaders was four seconds, and grew round by round as the Mercedes’ speed dominance came into play.
A virtual safety car on lap 36 saw Verstappen looking for a new set of shoes on his Red Bull.
“Bit of a risk of letting me out?” Hamilton, 17 seconds free, asked his team, the champion worried about becoming a sitting duck on his older tires.
But just when it looked as if Hamilton would emerge victorious, this magical season had one last trick up its sleeve, leaving a 24-year-old Belgian-born Dutchman to be crowned a worthy world champion. word.
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