The 2021 Formula 1 season provided exhilarating action from start to finish. But as always, there could only be one winner. This specific championship battle was between Red Bull driver, Max Verstappen, and 7-time F1 champion and Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton.
Going into the last race, both drivers were on level pegging, with Verstappen having the advantage of the lead based on countback, as he had more wins than Hamilton.
This was the first championship battle to be decided in the last race of the season, since former German driver, Nico Rosberg won out against Lewis Hamilton in 2016 and subsequently, retired, after defeating his team-mate.
The championship fight between both drivers saw the pole position change hands several times throughout the season. At the mid-point of the season, in August, Hamilton had an eight-point lead, ahead of Verstappen, after both drivers collided in the British Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit.
This appeared to be the beginning of a souring of relations between both drivers. Further, after the summer break, after two victories on the bounce, Hamilton and Verstappen collided once again in the Italian GP at the Monza circuit. Again, their rivalry turned bitter.
The next point at which their relations reached another level, was after the Saudi Arabian GP at the Jeddah circuit. After a chaotic race, in which several safety cars and red flags were deployed, Hamilton and Verstappen collided on a number of occasions.
The most dramatic collision came towards the climax of the race. When battling with Hamilton and following an overtake off the circuit, Verstappen was instructed by his Red Bull team to return the lead position to Hamilton.
Unaware that Red Bull instructed their driver to return the lead position to Hamilton, Hamilton attempted to overtake Verstappen. However, having slowly suddenly in front of Hamilton, Hamilton ran into the back of Verstappen and suffered minor damage to his front-wing.
Despite this, Hamilton’s Mercedes appeared largely, unimpacted by the front-wing damage, and after Verstappen, returned the lead position to Hamilton, he went on to win the race in dominant form.
Post-race, Verstappen was given two five-second time penalties for overtaking Hamilton off the track and for dangerous driving. After this race, both drivers went into the final race, level pegging on points. This provided the perfect storm for one of the most intriguing final races in F1 history.
The driver who would win the race would become the world champion. This final race took place at the Abu Dhabi grand prix in the Yas Marina circuit. After taking pole position for his Red Bull team, with the slight aide of a slipstream from his team-mate, Sergio Perez, Verstappen had the perfect opportunity to round out, a brilliant season for him and his Red Bull team.
But Hamilton was in a close second place and would not give up the fight. On race day, Hamilton made a near-perfect start to the race, overtaking Verstappen at turn 1, immediately. However, this was not the end of what proved to be an unforgettable race.
Towards the mid-point of the first lap, Verstappen made a lunge down the inside of Hamilton at turn 6 and as it was a late overtake, Hamilton went through the corner and maintained the lead. Red Bull and Verstappen wanted Hamilton and Mercedes to return the lead position.
After a brief investigation, it was decided that Hamilton did not have to give up the position and gave up the advantage in which he gained, after cutting the corner. Up until the end of the race, the race appeared to be an anti-climax.
That was until lap 53. Towards the end of this lap, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, spun into the barriers in the final sector of the Yas Marina track. As there was minimal opportunity for the marshals to clear the track and the debris caused by this sudden crash, the safety car was deployed.
Immediately, Red Bull and Verstappen pitted for a set of soft tyres. However, Hamilton and Mercedes failed to do so, leaving him out on old-hard tyres, which would be, up to one-second or more per lap, slower than Verstappen’s soft tyres.
At that point of the race, realistically, it appeared that the race would finish under the safety car and Hamilton would be world champion, because he was winning the race. This meant that Hamilton would have broke the record of 7-time F1 world champion, Michael Schumacher, after levelling with him in 2020, having won the championship in dominant style.
Even if the race were to get underway on lap 58, which was the final lap, too many lapped cars were in between Hamilton and Verstappen and with little time, available, to allow these lapped cars to overtake the leaders and catch the pack of drivers, it was likely that a spectacle of a last lap would not be produced.
After initially deciding that the race would get underway on the final lap, and the lapped cars would stay in between the leaders, the race director, Michael Masi, decided to allow the lapped cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to catch the pack, rather than the rest of the lapped cars as sufficient time did not exist for the other lapped cars to pass the leaders.
This triggered fury from Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff. With Hamilton vulnerable on hard tyres, compared to Verstappen’s soft tyres, there was only one outcome. As the safety car pulled in, Verstappen stayed extremely close to Hamilton. It was winner takes all.
Whoever won the race, at this point, was the world champion. Verstappen made a lunge down the inside of Hamilton at turn 5 and made the corner. However, Hamilton did not give up the fight and fought as hard as possible through turns 6-8. As both drivers came through the final corner, Verstappen won the race.
He was world champion for the first time. He also became the first Dutch F1 driver to become world champion. Despite the race ending, the tension grew. Mercedes decided to appeal the result of the race on the grounds that the race director allowed some lapped cars to overtake the leaders, and catch the pack, but not allow other lapped cars, which were not in between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the leaders.
They also wanted Verstappen to be given a penalty, for appearing to overtake Hamilton under safety car conditions. After lengthy discussions, and hours after the race classification, both appeals were rejected. At this point, Mercedes had three days to make their decision as to whether to appeal it to the courts.
However, on Thursday, last week, Mercedes announced their intention not to appeal the result of the race. In summary, it was an epic championship from start to finish. Unfortunately, the end point of the championship does not reflect well on the sport of Formula 1, as steward decisions became the dominant talking point, rather than the spectacular championship campaigns pursued by both Verstappen and Hamilton.
Now awaits the releasing of the next ‘Drive To Survive’ F1 Netflix series in the New Year, which will delve through the 2021 Formula 1 season. I, for sure, will be tuning in with significant intrigue.