Formula 1

Formula 1: Verstappen is the new F1 World champion, winning under FIA controversy.

Despite being on the back foot for the entire race a late, controversial decision under safety car put Verstappen in the prime position to overtake and claim his first world championship title. Yet again, the FIA and Michael Masi are under fire.

The track was bathed in tension before race start. Going into the race, Verstappen had the high ground with pole position, but his soft tyres were a huge question, against Hamilton’s mediums. For only the second time in 71 years, the two title protagonists were on equal points going into the finale.

Race start

Hamilton took the lead from the line with a great start while Verstappen bogged down. Verstappen followed close through sector 1 and found an opportunity to lunge into the turn 6. There was slight contact, but the Mercedes went off track, with the assumption that he would give the place back. To the surprise of many, no investigation was deemed necessary and Hamilton kept the lead.

Hamilton started setting fastest laps and Verstappen was close, but unable to break into DRS territory. Hamilton’s lead was at 2s after lap 7, by lap 12, it had doubled to 4s.

While the action calmed on track, only the Aston Martins were showing action, Vettel winning out with a bold move to take 14th from his team-mate.

Early pit stops.

With Verstappen bleeding time, he pitted on lap 14 for hard tires, the Dutchman came out behind the McLaren of Norris, in 4th. He was easily past by the end of the second straight.

Hamilton responded, pitting the next lap. This gave both cars almost the same tyre life toward the end of the race, with 5s between them.

As Verstappen came out, Leclerc was distracted by the emerging Red Bull and went wide off the track. On returning, he launched into a huge battle with Tsunoda, who was attempting to make his way past. The Ferrari eventually won out after a superb battle in the 2nd sector.

Verstappen closed to 3rd placed Sainz on lap 17, he was held up and couldn’t get past by the first DRS or second DRS zones. It took an extra lap, but Verstappen was now back to one place behind Hamilton.

Hamilton was now catching Perez, who had inherited the lead by not pitting. The Mexican was told to follow ‘Plan B’ on the radio, which was assumed to mean ‘hold up Hamilton’.

Perez launched into an incredible series of defensive maneuvers. Intially, it seemed that Hamilton could just breeze past, but Perez stormed back into the lead with an incredible switchback move. This led to Perez holding up Hamilton by parking on almost every apex in sector 3. An entire lap of this cut Hamilton’s lead from 8s to 1.5s. Perez dived out of the way to let Verstappen past and pitted immediately.

Unfortunate endings

On lap 27, cameras cut to Raikkonen’s car, travelling slowly, Unfortunately, the F1 driver with the most appearances would not be able to end his final, 349th race. Almost immediately after this, Russell came on the radio reporting a lack of power from his Williams. 2 retirements in quick succession, neither prompted a virtual or a real safety car.

Bottas’ stop from 3rd placed him down in 9th and he couldn’t find a way past Leclerc for a significant amount of time. Leclerc continued to defend hard, placing his Ferrari in just the right places. However, the Monagasque couldn’t keep the Finn behind forever and he was past on lap 35.

A bad day for Alfa got worse as they faced their second retirement. Giovinazzi’s final race ended with his car grinding to a halt in sector 3. This caused a VSC. Leclerc was the first to take this opportunity to pit, but crucially Verstappen decided to pit straight after, maintaining his position and gaining a free stop. As the VSC ended, the gap was 17s and Verstappen had a 23-lap tyre advantage. Verstappen immediately set numerous fastest laps.

Historic, but for the right reason?

Verstappen was now setting qualifying lap after qualifying lap in an attempt to catch Hamilton in front. It was unsure whether Verstappen’s pace would be enough or if Hamilton would be able to maintain this pace. Verstappen’s initial blistering pace started to back down as he came within 13s.

Hamilton then came across a situation he would have hated to see, 4 cars that needed to be lapped running head to tail in a deep battle for 9th. It took a few laps, but Hamilton managed to get through without losing too much time to Verstappen behind.

With 10 laps to go, Verstappen’s pace was just falling slightly, giving Hamilton much needed breathing space. To make matters worse for the Dutchman, the 4 man backmarker group had now increased to 5 after Norris fell back with a slow puncture.

But, there was late drama as Latifi had a big impact with the barrier bringing out the safety car. Verstappen leapt into the pits immediately, while Hamilton, shockingly, stayed out. If the debris could get cleared in time, there would be a grandstand finish.

Still under safety car, Perez pulled in and retired from 3rd, gifting the place to Sainz.

Crucially, the call was made that lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake, meaning a huge amount of cars were between Hamilton and Verstappen. However, this dramatically changed. With one SC lap to go, the order was given to let the lapped cars past, meaning for one racing lap, Verstappen was right behind Hamilton.

The race restarted, under much constenation, and Verstappen immediately hounded the back of Hamilton. He made a lunge and found a way past into turn 5, the cars were side by side throughout sector 2, but Verstappen prevailed into the new sweeping turn. He kept the lead and ended the one lap sprint, controversially, the new Formula 1 World Champion. The Red Bull garage erupted with euphoria with one of the most unexpected championship turns. Mercedes were understandably dejected, but Hamilton gave a gentlemen’s performance on the post race interviews, showing the class of a 7 time world champion.

For Verstappen though, he finally realised a childhood dream with a driver’s world championship title. The outpouring of emotion was unlike that we’ve seen from the Dutchman so far this year and after the toughest season he’s ever faced, he ends a deserving champion. It is just a shame that the performance throughout the year has been tarnished from inconsistencies from the FIA.

Full race results

  1. Verstappen
  2. Hamilton +2.256s
  3. Sainz +5.172s
  4. Tsunoda +5.692s
  5. Gasly +6.531s
  6. Bottas +7.463s
  7. Norris +59.200s
  8. Alonso +61.708s
  9. Ocon +64.026s
  10. Leclerc +66.057s
  11. Vettel +67.527s
  12. Ricciardo +1 Lap
  13. Stroll +1 Lap
  14. Schumacher + 1 Lap
  15. Perez DNF
  16. Latifi DNF
  17. Giovinazzi DNF
  18. Russell DNF
  19. Raikkonen DNF
  20. Mazepin DNS

Was this 2021 season meant to end in any other way? While huge questions (for the second race in a row) will be raised at the FIA, the spotlight will remain on a truly incredible season between two titans of the sport. It might not have been the way fans had wanted to see it, but the curtain has called on one of the most historic and thrilling seasons in the sport’s 71 year tenure.

It’s all change for 2022, who will come out on top? We have a painstaking 98 days to wait until we get a true idea.

 

Featured Image Credit: @F1 Official Twitter

 

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