What a race. What a season.
It all came down to the final lap of the final race, with Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen able to keep his cool and come out on top in a somewhat controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, and as a result was named 2021 Formula One world champion.
In the closing stages it looked like Mercedes-Benz AMG's Lewis Hamilton was on his way to securing a record eighth title, as Verstappen was 13 seconds behind. However, Lady Luck then decided to shine on the Red Bull driver.
Williams's Nicholas Latifi ran into a barrier on lap 53 of 58, causing the safety car to come out and Hamilton to lose the gap that he had built. During this time, five of eight lapped drivers behind the safety car took the opportunity to overtake and un-lap themselves. Those five drivers were between Hamilton and Verstappen at the time the safety car came out.
Under the normal conditions, all eight lapped drivers would need to un-lap themselves before the safety car could leave the track but Race Control determined that they would not have time to move the lapped vehicles and still provide a green-flag lap to determine the race. In such a case, the race would have ended under the yellow flag, with Hamilton automatically declared the winner. Instead, the race was restarted once second-placed Verstappen was behind Hamilton. Verstappen now had an edge as his team decided to pit him and give him soft tires during the safety car period. Conversely, Mercedes chose not to pit Hamilton since it would have meant providing Verstappen with an opportunity to start the final lap in the lead spot.
2021 Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Once the race resumed, Verstappen with fresh tires passed Hamilton on the way into turn five. Hamilton then made two attempts to regain the lead, with the drivers going wheel-to-wheel, but was denied both times. Verstappen then went on to win the race and his first world title. Hamilton crossed the line in second some 2.25 seconds back.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz rounded out the top three. He finished some 5 seconds back, though that was thanks to a decision by Red Bull to retire third-placed Sergio Perez in the closing stages.
Perez provided a lot of help to Verstappen earlier in the race. Hamilton was almost 20 seconds ahead of Verstappen after the Red Bull driver made an early pit stop midway through the race during a virtual safety car period. Perez was in the lead at this point and, despite running on older tires, managed to hold up Hamilton long enough that Verstappen could catch up. Verstappen even called Perez a “legend” over the radio for his help.
Mercedes made two appeals to the FIA post race, one of them related to overtaking while the safety car was on the track, but both were dismissed. The automaker could still proceed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, should it desire.
The season has now come to a close. In the 2021 Drivers' Championship, Verstappen ended things with 395.5 points. Hamilton finished second with 387.5 points and fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas finished third with 226 points. Mercedes still took home the Constructors' Championship, finishing the season with 613.5 points. Red Bull was second with 585.5 points and Ferrari third with 323.5 points.
Red Bull Racing at the 2021 Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Below are the full results from the 2021 Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-Benz AMG +2.256 seconds
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari +5.173 seconds
4) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri +5.692 seconds
5) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri +6.531 seconds
6) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes-Benz AMG +7.463 seconds
7) Lando Norris, McLaren +59.200 seconds
8) Fernando Alonso, Alpine +61.708 seconds
9) Esteban Ocon, Alpine +64.026 seconds
10) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari +66.057 seconds
11) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin +67.527 seconds
12) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren +1 lap
13) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin +1 lap
14) Mick Schumacher, Haas +1 lap
15) Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing DNF
NC) Nicholas Latifi, Williams DNF
NC) Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo DNF
NC) George Russell, Williams DNF
NC) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo DNF
NC) Nikita Mazepin, Haas DNS