A grand finale for an epic season. Max Verstappen wins his first-ever World Championship title in Formula 1 with a win in Abu Dhabi. After leading the entire race and following a controversial finish, Lewis Hamilton has to settle for the second position, behind the 24-year old.
Lewis Hamilton started second on the Yas Marina Circuit, but went by Max Verstappen starting from pole and on softs, after having ruined his hard tires on Saturday, in Q2.
Turn six puts them side by side with Max forcing him out. Hamilton cuts the turn and gains his position back. Red Bull contacts Michael Masi and asks him to put Mercedes back into their place. But the race director decides not to take further action. Meanwhile, Lewis is starting to enlarge the gap between him and the Dutch, with a 2-second lead by lap 5.
His teammate, Valtteri Bottas, on his last race for Mercedes-AMG Petronas, goes all the way down the grip into the tenth position.
In the garage, Max Verstappen’s father, Jos, suffers with his eyes on the displays that are showing his son second. Last year, the Red Bull Racing driver started from pole and won in Abu Dhabi.
By lap 12, the Dutch driver is complaining that his tires are giving in. Two laps later, way earlier than all others, he already pits to switch to hards and returns to the racetrack in the 5th.
Mercedes pays attention to Red Bull’s strategy and calls Lewis Hamilton to the pits. They know that all they need is for the Brit to finish ahead of the Dutch and keep their eyes on the prize. Back on the race track and Lewis pushes to overtake Sergio Perez. Verstappen’s teammate tries to block him and slow him down until the Dutch comes closer, but the Mercedes driver does what he does best, he gets in the lead and starts adding up seconds. In lap 30, there are over 4 between the two title rivals.
Meanwhile, Bottas pits again and drops to the 9th spot with no chance to second Lewis whatsoever. The team asks Lewis if he prefers softs or hards, he tells them both feel good.
Under Virtual Safety Car, Max Verstappen pits for hards in lap 37 and so does teammate Sergio Perez. But Hamilton stays out. “A bit risky to keep me out, no?” he asks. He is only 16 seconds ahead of Verstappen with no time to return in the lead. “It’s a long way to Hamilton to go”, Verstappen is told. There are indeed 14 seconds to recover in 13 laps. But Hamilton’s tires are growing old so he has to manage them carefully. The tension is building up as the gap is ever smaller.
Max Verstappen wins when he thought everything was over
With 9 laps to go, there are 11 seconds. And that is exactly what he does. Until Nick Latifi hits the wall and the Safety Car is out with 5 laps to go. Verstappen pits again, Hamilton remains on the racetrack again. “That’s unbelievable, man!”, the Brit says. The mechanics go back with the tires they already prepared to put on the Brit’s car. Mercedes is hoping the race will finish like this. Otherwise, with worn-out tires, Lewis is at great risk.
Red Bull must retire Perez’s car due to technical issues. Lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake, is the announcement of the race director. But he eventually changes his mind.
The Safety Car goes out and Max Verstappen charges, taking advantage of his tires. Lewis Hamilton’s tires are much too old to withstand the attack. And the Formula 1 World Championship title goes to the Dutch driver. It is the first time a Dutch wins it. Lewis Hamilton’s fabulous series is interrupted and his 8-time champion record is postponed.
In the Mercedes-AMG Petronas garage, nobody smiles. The party is over at Red Bull’s. The team from Brixworth and Brackley won the Constructors’ Title though, so they still have a reason to celebrate.