The season finale to the Formula One season has gotten a lot of people talking.
Some congratulated Max Verstappen following his first drivers’ championship, while others complained about the ending to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
For the man himself, the controversial last few laps to Sunday’s race haven’t dampened the 24-year-old Verstappen’s breakthrough championship victory.
“No, I’m not disappointed at all,” the Red Bull driver said when asked whether the ending took the shine of his victory at all.
“It sums up the season as a whole. It’s been pretty crazy, pretty intense.”
Drama and controversy
Verstappen pipped Lewis Hamilton to the title in a drama-filled race in Abu Dhabi.
There was controversy right from the opening lap, when Hamilton went off track and into the lead after almost colliding with Verstappen. Although Red Bull thought Hamilton should have given up his first place, the stewards decided not to investigate the incident and allowed Hamilton to proceed in first.
The real moment of controversy took place with just a few laps to go though and with Hamilton cruising to his record-breaking eighth world title.
Williams Racing driver Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barriers with four laps remaining, resulting in the safety car being called out.
While the Mercedes team decided they couldn’t afford to pit Hamilton in case he would lose his lead, Red Bull did choose to pit Verstappen and got fitted with a new set of soft tires. Verstappen re-entered the track with five lapped cars between him and Hamilton.
The controversy reached its peak when a message from race director Michael Masi initially said lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen would not be allowed to unlap themselves, only for Masi to appear to change his mind moments later, leaving the Red Bull driver right behind Hamilton with fresh tires and just one lap to go.
It meant the race restarted on the final lap, with Verstappen now allowed to start almost side-by-side with Hamilton, despite the Brit having previously established a healthy lead.
The Dutchman, on new tires, had the pace to overtake his rival on turn five and win one of the most dramatic F1 races ever.
Verstappen’s title wasn’t confirmed until long after the end of the race as both teams spent hours in the steward’s box, after Hamilton’s Mercedes team launched two protests against the hotly contested result, which were dismissed by officials.
Mercedes on Sunday lodged an intention to appeal against the decision relating to restarting the race for the last lap – which could pave the way for even more drama over the coming weeks.
As protests and appeals after races have happened before during this drama-filled season, the end to Sunday’s race didn’t take the shine off, says Verstappen.
“I think it’s a big part of the whole season. It’s been already like that a few times. It is what it is sometimes. That’s racing sometimes. For me, nothing really changed,” he said.
“We were still celebrating. And we did win it on track. I and the team, we didn’t do anything wrong. We just raced when there was a green light, so that also made it really enjoyable for us to be celebrating.”
Despite the protests and appeal, Hamilton and Mercedes made a point of congratulating Verstappen in the aftermath, something the Dutch driver was appreciative of.
“(Mercedes CEO and Team Principal) Toto (Wolff) sent me a text: ‘Congratulations on the season.’ That I deserve to win it,” Verstappen explained. “So that was very nice of him to do that.
When asked about how well Hamilton took finishing second despite the controversy, Verstappen said with a smile: “It also helps that he already has seven titles. I think that comforts him a bit.
“If it’s other way around, it would be more painful for me because I didn’t have one,” he continued. “Lewis is great sportsman in general. He came up to me and congratulated me. That must’ve been very tough in that last lap.
“It also shows the respect we have for each other. Of course, we’ve had our tough times throughout this season, but in the end, we respect what we were doing and we were pushing each other to the limit through the whole season, so it’s been really enjoyable racing against him the whole season.”
A stressful day
With so much riding on Sunday’s race, Verstappen admitted he maybe didn’t sleep as well as he might have liked on Saturday evening.
“I did sleep, probably not as well as normal, I was also just looking forward to the battle and what would happen, and luckily, I didn’t know at the time how the race would go or I would’ve had a heart attack.”
And again on Sunday, he didn’t sleep possibly as much as he would’ve liked – but for a whole different reason – with his celebration party going long into the night.
But while he was celebrating, others were complaining about the ending to the race, including George Russell – Mercedes driver next year – who tweeted: “Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we’ve just seen.”
Former F1 champion Damon Hill questioned how the race was handled, writing: “This is a new way of running the sport where the Race Director can make these ad hoc decisions. Its been a bit too ‘guess what I’m going to do now’ I think.”
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When asked about whether there was anything that could be done to make the rules clearer or if the chaos and confusion adds to the drama and appeal, Verstappen told the media that evaluating and reevaluating previous decisions is natural in sport.
“There are always things to look at for sure. But after something like this, you’re always going to look into: ‘What can we do? What should’ve been done?’” he said.
“This is the same with all kinds of decisions. The same in football with the referee. Should it have been a penalty? Shouldn’t it have been a penalty? What can we improve? Should we have had a different camera angle? All these kind of things you’re going to bring up for sure.”
Ben Church, Homero De la Fuente and Amy Woodyatt contributed to this report.