Max Verstappen won his first-ever Formula 1 World Championship with a sensational pass in the last lap over title rival Lewis Hamilton to secure a controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory.
The Red Bull driver stormed Hamilton in the final stages of the end-of-season race at the Yas Marina circuit after benefiting from a late safety car that brought the field together.
Hamilton seemed to be racing to glory, easily holding Verstappen at bay in the closing laps, only for a crash by Nicholas Latifi’s Williams to turn the tide.
Confusion reigned when race director Michael Masi changed his mind to allow the overtaken cars to overtake the safety car – meaning Verstappen had a clear run in Hamilton on the last lap and with a lot more tires. fast.
However, the drama may not be over yet as Mercedes made two appeals the day after the race, one for the engagement of Verstappen as part of the safety car and the other on the procedure of. safety car itself and ultimately why only a certain number of overtaken cars have been allowed. pass before reboot.
The Dutchman broke down in tears as he crossed the line, professing his love for his team and sitting next to his car after pulling it to a halt: âIt’s amazing guys. Can we do this another 10 at 15 together, âhe said. .
Verstappen called his victory “crazy” after Hamilton congratulated him after the race.
He told Sky Sports: âIt’s amazing. I kept fighting the whole race. I had the chance on the last lap. It’s amazing, I still have a cramp. C ‘crazy.
âThese guys, my team, they deserve it. I love them so much. I have enjoyed working with them since 2016, but this year has been amazing.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said Verstappen needed a miracle to win the world championship with 10 laps to go.
Verstappen said: “Finally a bit of luck for me. It was great teamwork.
âMy team knows that I love them and that there’s never a need to change. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life.
“Christian trusted me to be in the team in 2016 and our goal was to win this championship and now we have done it.”
Hamilton paid tribute to Verstappen and said he had given everything to win his eighth world title.
He told Sky Sports: âCongratulations to Max and his team. I think we have done an amazing job this year.
âEveryone at the factory and here has worked so hard during this most difficult season. I am so proud of them and so grateful to be a part of the journey with them.
“We gave it our all this last part of the season, we never gave up.”
Verstappen paid tribute to Hamilton after his success in the final round in Abu Dhabi.
The Dutchman said: âLewis is an amazing driver and an amazing competitor. They really made it tough for us and everyone loved seeing the two teams go head to head.
âWe’ve had a tough time, but it’s part of the sport and its emotion. Everyone wants to win and it could have been both ways.
“I’ve tried to keep pushing and sometimes miracles happen. Next year we’ll come back and try again.”
Hamilton appeared on track for a record-breaking eighth championship after passing pole-sitter Verstappen out of the line.
The Briton started alongside his compatriot title protagonist in the front row and was faster at the start, leading the race around the first corner of the reconfigured track.
These changes were made to improve passing here and Verstappen tried to take full advantage of the hairpin widening at Turn Seven as he rushed to try and regain his lead.
As a result, Hamilton exited the track, rejoining after missing the turn, but it was felt he had no penalties to pay as a season punctuated by collisions, near misses and conflicting calls from flight attendants. seemed ready for another twist.
The near crash was all Hamilton needed to know he needed to run on the road to avoid further mishap, aware that if he and Verstappen didn’t both finish the title would go to his opponent due more racing victories.
However, he was not to do everything his way, as he entered the pits on lap 15 to avoid being undermined by Verstappen, but emerged behind Sergio Perez’s Red Bull sister – who was ordered to hold back Hamilton.
That’s exactly what the Mexican did, costing Hamilton more than six seconds as he fought for the lead, with Verstappen closing in and praising his teammate as a âlegendâ on the radio.
Once cleared, however, Hamilton once again showed his absolute pace to start rebuilding the gap he lost stuck behind Perez.
Everything looked rosy until a virtual safety car was deployed to extricate the distressed Alfa Romeo from Antonio Giovinazzi, with Verstappen in the pits for new tires as Hamilton stayed on the sidelines.
Verstappen might have had the cooler rubber, but Hamilton was still untouchable, Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitting the team needed a ‘miracle’ with an 11-second gap with 10 laps to go .
And a miracle is exactly what Red Bull got when Latifi slammed through barriers and pulled out a safety car with just five laps to go, Verstappen stopping for the third time and putting on more new tires.
Time, however, seemed to be on Hamilton’s side as the laps slipped behind the safety car and Masi opted to keep the five cars passed between the leader and Verstappen in place.
He then changed tack, sending the quintet ahead of Hamilton and the safety car, which meant there was nothing between the title rivals as the race car took off with just one lap to go.
Verstappen was ready to pounce and pounce, though Hamilton fought back until he had nothing more to give.
As the incredible action unfolded on track, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff ranted at Masi on the radio for his change of decision.