After hours of controversy, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile has decided to uphold their decision of the safety car restart, meaning that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has won Formula One’s Driver’s Championship for the first time in his young career.
Verstappen’s adversary this season was none other than seven-time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has dominated the sport alongside his Mercedes team, winning six of the last eight titles and seven total (one with McLaren). Coming into the race, Verstappen and Hamilton were deadlocked at 369.5 points, the first time that has happened since 1974.
Throughout the season, the two have given fans plenty to talk about. We’ve had the late-race incident between the two in Bahrain where Verstappen overtook Hamilton off-track. Hamilton charged through the pack in Portugal to win the race from far behind. We’ve had the red-flag incident at Imola where Hamilton would have otherwise been out of the race. The Verstappen domination in Austria. Verstappen being sent into the wall hard at Silverstone. The two crashing at Monza. Hamilton’s valiant effort to tie the championship with big races in Brazil and Qatar. The crash in Saudi Arabia, and now, of course, the final race in Abu Dhabi.
All season long, things were happening. The stewards and Michael Masi have put their nose into things many times over the season. Some have gone the way of Hamilton, some have gone the way of Verstappen, but that’s the nature of competitive sport. Although the season ended in a controversial fashion, Verstappen is worthy of winning the championship.
“Does Max deserve the championship? Of course he does,” said Martin Brundle. “He led 652 laps compared with Lewis’ 303 laps. He departed 15 of the 22 races leading the championship including the last seven. He won 10 races compared to eight for Lewis (yes I know, we’ll get onto that shortly), and it was 18 podiums playing 17. And he didn’t have the best of luck along the way, until the last few miles of course.”
What happened in Abu Dhabi will forever be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t have happened this way, but it doesn’t mean that Verstappen wasn’t deserving of winning the title. It was a piece to the puzzle, but Verstappen was Hamilton’s equal all season long.
“The final few laps in Abu Dhabi, when the world’s eyes were on us in staggering numbers, were not our finest moment and some things have to change this winter,” said Brundle. “We certainly confused our fans on Sunday.”
For all of the controversy, Verstappen didn’t allow it to dampen his spirits, celebrating into the early morning.
“All the emotions they come out,” the bleary-eyed Dutchman said on a video call on Monday. “So it was a lot of fun. Of course, when I woke up it wasn’t so fun. I maybe regretted that final drink.”
“Toto sent me a text – congratulations on the season and that I deserve to win it,” Verstappen said. “So that was very nice of him, of course. Emotions run very high to that last lap from both teams. It is what is.”
Asked about the Hamilton rumours and if he thought had it been up to Hamilton alone to protest or not to that there wouldn’t have been one, Verstappen told Sky Sports: “Yeah definitely, I also think so.”
“Of course it helps that you already have seven titles, I think that comforts him a bit.”
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“I think if it is the other way around it would be more painful for me because I didn’t have one.”
“But Lewis is a great sportsman in general, he came up to me and congratulated me, and it must have been of course very tough in that last lap, but it also shows the respect we have for each other in general.”
On Thursday, Mercedes officially announced that they would be withdrawing their appeal, feeling that the FIA and Formula 1 were doing enough to not have this happen again.
“The reason we protested the race result on Sunday was because the Safety Car regulations were applied in a new way that affected the race result, after Lewis [Hamilton] had been in a commanding lead and on course to win the World Championship,” said Mercedes in a statement.
“We appealed in the interest of sporting fairness, and we have since been in a constructive dialogue with the FIA and Formula 1 to create clarity for the future, so that all competitors know the rules under which they are racing, and how they will be enforced. Thus, we welcome the decision by the FIA to install a commission to thoroughly analyze what happened in Abu Dhabi and to improve the robustness of the riles, governance and decision making in Formula 1. We also welcome that they have invited the teams and drivers to take part.”
They also took the chance to finally congratulate Verstappen on winning the title.
“To Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing: we would like to express our sincere respect for your achievements this season. You made this Formula 1 Championship title fight truly epic. Max, we congratulate you and your entire team. We look forward to taking the fight to you on the track next season.”
After nearly a week of doubt, the championship is over, and Verstappen can now say with certainty World Champion. Both Verstappen and Hamilton were worthy champions this season, but only one can have it. This time, it was Verstappen, and he’s definitely worthy of it this season.