Max Verstappen: the miracle that made an F1 champion

Red Bull star snatched Lewis Hamilton’s crown in a dramatic finale in Abu Dhabi

Max Verstappen won his first F1 world title in 2021
Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium in Abu Dhabi 
(Image credit: Dan Istitene/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The 2021 Formula 1 championship has been the most tumultuous in the sport’s history, said Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph, and it reached its climax with another absurdly dramatic race. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen headed to Abu Dhabi locked on 369.5 points apiece – meaning whoever finished the race first would be crowned world champion. The Englishman seized the early advantage, flying out from second on the grid to take the lead before the first corner. Verstappen nearly recovered it seconds later when he dived on the inside and briefly forced Hamilton off the track, but Hamilton clung on to his advantage. He was still ahead with five laps to go, now leading by 12 seconds. Verstappen’s plight appeared hopeless. “We are going to need a miracle,” declared Red Bull principal Christian Horner.

A miracle is what they got, said Sean Ingle in The Guardian. On lap 53, Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams, and in so doing caused the safety car to be called out: all cars now had to reduce speed and drive round the track in a line behind the safety car with no overtaking permitted. The slowing down of the cars gave Verstappen the golden opportunity to make a rapid pit stop for new tyres and still keep his second place – though there were now five lapped cars between himself and the leader: Hamilton. With just four laps to go, any further normal racing seemed unlikely: it looked as if the cars would end the race in safety car order, leaving Hamilton the winner. But when Latifi’s car was eventually cleared, there was time for just one more lap of racing. At this point, race director Michael Masi made the fateful decision to allow the five lapped cars in front of Verstappen to “delap” themselves (i.e. to move ahead and overtake the safety car), clearing them from the Dutchman’s path. This pushed him right behind Hamilton, making the final lap a “shootout”.

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