Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to F1 title on last lap
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won a dramatic Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to clinch the F1 world title in a remarkable conclusion to the season.
Hamilton had seemed on course for victory and an eighth world title in total, but a late safety car allowed Verstappen to pit for fresh tires as he snatched the lead from the Mercedes man on the last lap.
Verstappen, 24, wins the world title for the first time while Hamilton remains on seven championships alongside German legend Michael Schumacher.
After a season of twists and turns, Hamilton and Verstappen had headed into the conclusion at the Yas Marina circuit level on points, meaning it was winner-takes-all on Sunday.
However, after Verstappen's victory Hamilton fans will be left asking questions over the contentious circumstances at the end of the race.
Mercedes will surely demand answers over a messy denouement when the safety car was deployed following a crash by Williams driver Nicholas Latifi with five laps to go.
Verstappen pitted and the field bunched up. Crucially, race director Michael Masi made a late call to permit some drivers to overtake the safety car, having previously said they couldn’t.
That put Verstappen directly behind Hamilton on fresh soft tires rather than with stragglers to overtake, and he took full advantage by sweeping past his rival on turn five of the final lap.
Mercedes were left raging as boss Toto Wolff fumed on the radio that the situation was “not right”.
But when the dust had settled, it was Verstappen who had broken Hamilton's streak of four successive F1 titles, also ending Mercedes' run of seven successive wins.
"It's unbelievable," said the Dutchman, who is the son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.
"I don't know what to say, my team deserve it, they are unbelievable."
STUNNING FINALE TO REMARKABLE SEASON
Verstappen and Hamilton were locked on 369.5 points heading into the season finale in the UAE, and the tone for yet another controversial showdown was set as early as the first lap.
Starting from second on the grid, Hamilton had made a blistering start by beating pole-starter Verstappen to the first corner, but the Red Bull driver attempted to recapture his position at turn seven, leading to the Brit heading off the track.
Hamilton rejoined in first place but a review was launched into whether Verstappen had been in the wrong by braking too late and “pushing” the Mercedes man off the track, or whether the Brit was beaten fair and square to the corner.
But race stewards decided not to investigate, meaning the places stayed as they were.
That drew fury from Red Bull and Verstappen, who described the decision as “incredible.”
DRAMA!Hamilton and Verstappen jockey for the lead as there is controversy between the championship protagonists on the opening lap!Should Hamilton have to give the position back?#F1#AbuDhabiGPpic.twitter.com/lvvb71PkZ5— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 12, 2021
Following the controversial opening Hamilton soon opened up a healthy lead as Verstappen struggled on his soft tires before swapping to hards.
Hamilton followed into the pits to swap his mediums for hard tires, and emerged behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, whose team were hoping he could somehow hold up the Brit to get Verstappen back into contention.
Perez duly obliged by tussling with Hamilton, cutting his lead over Verstappen from five seconds to around two before the Mercedes driver finally found a way past.
Perez then made way for Verstappen to pass as the race returned to a straight shootout between the two championship rivals.
Hamilton again opened up a big lead but Red Bull seemed to be offered another glimmer of hope when the virtual safety car was deployed on lap 37 of 58 when Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo came to halt trackside.
Red Bull used the chance to bring Verstappen in again while Mercedes and Hamilton opted to stay out.
LAP 37/58And Red Bull do call Max Verstappen in for a fresh set of tyres, under the Virtual Safety Car Lewis Hamilton is now 17 seconds clear of his title rival - but is on much older tyresAttack mode engaged for Max 🚀#AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 #F1pic.twitter.com/2QtdnQTi9o— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
By that stage the Brit’s lead was touching 18 seconds, although the fresher tires meant Verstappen could attempt an unlikely a last-ditch charge for the title.
Hamilton still seemed set to hold on in relative comfort, but there was one last twist on the cards when Williams driver Latifi crashed with five laps to go.
The yellow flag came out which gave the chance for Verstappen to pit yet again in one last roll of the dice.
When the safety car was removed the Dutchman pounced, speeding past Hamilton to take the checkered flag just over 2.5 seconds ahead of his rival, with Carlos Sainz Jr of Ferrari finishing third.
Hamilton, 36, was initially stunned at missing out on a record title but was gracious to Verstappen and Red Bull despite tensions often simmering over during a fiercely contested season.
“Firstly, congratulations to Max and his team,” said Hamilton.
“I think we did an amazing job this year. The team, everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, worked so hard all year in a difficult season.
“I am so proud of them, and so grateful to be part of the journey with them. We gave it everything this last part of the season and never gave up, that's the most important thing.”
Mercedes at least had some consolation in the form of the Constructors' Title, which they won for the eighth time in a row.
But for the first time since 2013, it was a Red Bull racer who ended the season as F1 world champion.