Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen both played their part in one of the most dramatic conclusions to a title fight in sporting history.
The events that transpired during yesterday’s race are sure to capture a new generation of Formula 1 fans and invigorate the current fanbase for years to come.
Prior to the race Channel 4 announced a partnership with Sky Sports to broadcast the race for free, and registered a peak viewing audience of 7.4 million people, breaking the records for a live race broadcast for both providers.
Hamilton and Verstappen both deserved the title for their hard work across the season, going wheel to wheel almost every week. And consequently the pair entered the final race level on points, just the second time this has happened in Formula 1 history.
After an intense qualifying session, it was Verstappen who drew first blood, claiming pole position. However, a lock up on medium tyres in Q2 meant the 24-year-old was boxed into a corner with regards to what strategy he could go for by forcing him onto softs, whereas Hamilton had a more efficient strategy being allowed to start on mediums.
However, come race day Verstappen got off to a poor start, losing his advantage of quicker tyres with Hamilton overtaking him at turn 1. Verstappen came back at the end of the first DRS (drag reduction system} straight and forced Hamilton wide, with the stewards then deeming that any lasting advantage had been given back by the Britain on the next straight – the first controversial decision of the day.
As the race progressed, it was obvious that Hamilton was quicker than Verstappen. But a massive defensive play from Sergio Perez managed to bring Verstappen back into contention after both the front runners pitted onto the hard compound of tyres.
Despite this, Hamilton once again showed his superiority by pulling away again, before a safety car altered the dynamic of the race.
Verstappen took the opportunity to pit himself onto a faster tyre while Hamilton remained on track. The gap at this point was around 15 seconds, and Verstappen would need to gain almost a second a lap on the seven-time world champion.
With just a handful of laps to go it looked as though the title was in the bag for Hamilton, but after Nicholas Latifi hit the wall, a new safety car was deployed that provided one final decisive twist for the World Championship.
Once again Hamilton stayed on his old tyres to not concede track position, while Verstappen pitted once again in order to give himself one last shot at the title.
This call would ultimately be the decisive factor in deciding the Championship. With a frankly disgusting amount of confusion from the FIA and Race Control on the last few laps, the race sparked back into life from out of no where, leaving it to be a one shot lap where either could emerge as the victor.
At turn 5, one of the tracks new refurbished corners, the final move was completed. Verstappen took Hamilton on the inside of the new hairpin and wrestled the lead back into his hands after not leading a single lap of the race.
Hamilton fought back for all he could, but with his old hard tyres compared to the Dutchman’s new soft set, he might as well have been in a normal Mercedes Benz.
A few turns later saw Verstappen crowned as the newest F1 World Champion, dethroning a legend of the sport who had done everything right on the day.
That extraordinary final lap of the 2021 title race in full 😮#AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 #F1 pic.twitter.com/kknTMDfpAF
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
For Hamilton, the feeling must have been gut-wrenching, but he has suffered through this heartache before, and if history is anything to go by, he will be back with a vengeance.
But for Verstappen, this win was ecstasy. A first world championship for the 24-year-old, making him just one of four drivers to have done so. Anyone associated with F1 will want these two to carry on going wheel to wheel year in year out, and long may Championship battles as tight as this one continue.
What’s more, this race marks the end of the current era of Formula 1. While V6 turbo-hybrid engine that has been in place since 2014 will remain, the design of the car chassis will be completely new, specifically designed to follow the car in front and lessen the impact of ‘dirty air’.
With this year era sparks new questions and new conundrums. And it will all be getting started once again in 95 days when the lights go out for the first race of the 2022 season.