“Max Verstappen, You are the World Champion!” – Christian Horner

Updated: Feb 28

Written by Hafiz Akbar

As the championship went down to the wire under the lights of Yas Marina, the air is filled with anticipation on who would win the race.

The starting grid consisted of Max Verstappen, who got a majestic tow in qualifying from his teammate, Sergio Perez. Lewis Hamilton lines up beside the Dutchman, with an unexpected third-place qualifier in Lando Norris. The race started with 19 cars since Nikita Mazepin tested positive mere hours before the race took place.

As the race commenced, Verstappen got a poor run-off from the line with Hamilton capitalizing on the error made by the Dutchman. Norris went wide coming into turn 1 and lost places. Not a full lap had elapsed when the championship protagonists almost came together in the chicane when Hamilton took the escape road as Verstappen ran him wide. Race control concluded that there’s no investigation was necessary for that incident.

Norris was experiencing a gearbox issue in the earlier part of the race and subsequently fell off, pace-wise. In the meantime, Verstappen pitted in lap 14, replacing his worn softs with hards. As he was exiting the pit lane, Charles Leclerc had a huge moment and went to the run-off area just before the first hairpin, losing him a place to an Alpha Tauri (I forgot which one).

Perez was instructed to go for “Plan B” by his team, signalling team orders to help out Verstappen by backing up Hamilton, who’s hot up his rear wing with DRS. They went on to have a massive battle for over two laps before Hamilton eventually got past the Mexican and gave way for Verstappen to chase after the defending champ. By lap 20–the lap which Plan B was given–Verstappen clocked in a lap time 5 seconds faster than Hamilton, courtesy of Perez slowing down Hamilton.

On lap 27, an unfortunate ending for 2007 F1 World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen, on the final race of his career as he parked up the car and retired due to a brake problem. Not long after, 2022 Mercedes driver, George Russell lost power from his engine just after turn 5 and subsequently has to retire from the race. He continued to watch the race as it unfolded from the pit.

As lap 30 came by, Valtteri Bottas was instructed to go for “hammer time,” as he’s pitting at the end of the lap. Didn’t come to much, but the time loss was minimized for sure. He went out just behind Leclerc, which managed to hold the Finn up for quite an entertaining battle indeed.

The Grand Prix went from bad to worse for Alfa Romeo, as their remaining driver, Antonio Giovinazzi also retired to mechanical issues and parked right up the firing line of the second hairpin. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car, with Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff begging Race Director, Michael Masi to not bring out a Safety Car as that would hamper the bolting away of Hamilton in his quest for the win.

In the VSC, Verstappen pitted and was followed suit by his teammate. With brand new hards, he is now on the chase. Hamilton, confused, said:

“A bit of a risk leaving me out, no?”

His race engineer, Peter Bonnington, said if they pitted Hamilton, they would’ve lost track position and that would be unfavourable. Hamilton further said that he wouldn’t be able to keep putting the pace he’s got at the time. After the VSC, the race simmered down and Hamilton seemed to have pulled away enough to win the race. That’s what I thought before Nicholas Latifi lost his rear end and smacked the Armco barrier just after the hotel. This brought out the actual safety car and for 4 laps, the race came to a halt.

Verstappen went in the pits for soft tyres and came out no worse in terms of track position. Ready to attack, he waits for the opportunity to pounce. As Race Control controversially allowed lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves but not the cars behind Verstappen, he can’t wait to get a move on and went almost alongside Hamilton just before passing the hotel section.

The last lap was the stuff of racing gods intervention, as Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner said beforehand. For the last lap, the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen winded down from more than 20 seconds to a mere 0.3 seconds and they’re battled it out to perfection. No contact, no shenanigans, no controversy (in the battle itself, at least). Verstappen went for the overtake coming into turn 5 and managed to take a lead over Hamilton for the first time in the race. Hamilton, chasing after the record-setting 8th title, didn’t give up just yet. He tried jockeying for position with the leader coming into the chicane and managed to keep up with Verstappen coming out of the chicane and with DRS in the cards, Hamilton just about managed to pass the Dutchman coming into the second hairpin but can’t make a move stick. Moreover, as the track goes from wide enough to not wide enough, Max Verstappen took the chequered flag to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the first-ever World Championship title under his belt.

So, after an enthralling season, the standings come to a close. In the Drivers’ Championship, Max Verstappen is the world champion, with Lewis Hamilton, the 2020 champion trailing just by the 7 points he lost in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season. Flying Finn #3, Valtteri Bottas had an amazing season with Mercedes-AMG as he move on to Alfa Romeo for the 2022 season, finishing third in the championship.

In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes-AMG–courtesy of the second and third-place finishes from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the Drivers’–wins the championship for a record-setting 8th time in a row. Red Bull Racing Honda trailed the German brand not by much, owning to often inconsistent results from Sergio Perez. In third is the legendary Italian racing stallion, Scuderia Ferrari. Consistent results from both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc really helped the cause, especially with McLaren having a mare of a season after the magnificent season they had in 2020, where they finished third in the championship. For more in both the Constructors’ and the Drivers’ Championship, stay tuned for our season recap.

Well, for the moment being, this is the point where we say goodbye–at least, for two to three months–and until then, watch it, drink it in, because you’ll most likely never see anything like this ever again as a Dutch driver wins the title for the first time in history.

Oh, I almost forgot, Kimi Raikkonen won Driver of the Day, thanks to you lot 🙂 His swansong might not be the one he deserved, but at least he gets a part in the race.

As I’m writing this article, Mercedes has lodged a protest for alleged breach by Verstappen under the safety car and the classification established at the end of the competition based on the safety car protocol not being followed–courtesy of WTF1’s Instagram page.

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