Max Verstappen wins first Formula 1 world title
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen snatched his first Formula 1 world title by beating Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of a thrilling season finale in Abu Dhabi – then had to wait while the Briton’s Mercedes team had two protests against the result rejected by stewards.
Hamilton had appeared in control of the race and on course for the title himself, despite controversy on the first lap, until a late safety car.
The race was restarted with one lap to go with Verstappen on fresh tyres and Hamilton on old ones and the Dutchman swept by to win.
The victor screamed with delight and Red Bull celebrated, while Hamilton sat in his Mercedes for several minutes, disbelieving at the way events had turned against him in the final minutes.
After he stepped off the podium as champion, Verstappen’s celebrations were interrupted by Mercedes’ protests, and he had to wait more than four hours until they could resume, though even then Mercedes indicated they would appeal.
It was, in so many ways, a fitting end to one of the greatest and most contentious seasons in Formula 1 history – and the arguments over right and wrong will rage for some time to come.
How a historic title decider unfolded
The race had appeared to surrender to Hamilton after he was controversially allowed to keep the lead he had earned with a better start than Verstappen, despite going off track to retain his position when the Dutchman tried to pass him at the end of the first back straight.
Red Bull and Verstappen were exasperated and disbelieving about it, but Hamilton was imperious from then on, through a pit stop and a virtual safety car, until Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams with five laps to go.
Mercedes felt they could not afford to pit Hamilton because to do so would have been surrendering the lead if Verstappen did not do the same – and he may well not have done because his tyres were relatively fresh after a second stop.
But when Hamilton did not stop for fresh tyres, Verstappen did and that was the decisive call.
There was more controversy as race director Michael Masi initially said lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen would not be allowed to un-lap themselves, as is normal practice.
Red Bull complained and Masi changed his mind, allowing the lapped cars between the title contenders past Hamilton, which put Verstappen right behind Hamilton for the one remaining lap of racing.
Verstappen passed Hamilton into Turn Five and held off his attempts to re-pass down the two straights that followed and completed the lap before erupting with joy. (BBC)