How did Max Verstappen win his first ever F1 title? Lewis Hamilton rivalry and Abu Dhabi controversy explained

Max Verstappen took his first ever Championship title in a controversial, yet exhilarating final Grand Prix

Verstappen steals victory away from Hamilton in final lap
Verstappen steals victory away from Hamilton in final lap
Verstappen steals victory away from Hamilton in final lap

Lewis Hamilton was denied his eighth championship title in a final grand prix that summed up just how thrilling, tight and controversial the entire 2021 season has been.

Max Verstappen won his first ever Championship title in the final lap of the Abu Dhabi grand prix.

2021 was a season unlike any we have seen for many years. The 24 year old Dutchman and the 36-year-old Briton had been neck and neck all season with both drivers taking the advantage at various points throughout the year and, in the end, it all came down to the final race.

This year has been full of agitation, altercations and alleged unfairness which has resulted in one of the most exciting seasons for many years.

Hamilton has been dominating the sport, with championship titles every year since 2016 and in 2015, 2014 and 2008.

His former teammate, Nico Rosberg, was able to beat the Briton in 2016 and now for the first time in five years, Hamilton has once more been beaten.

What happened in Abu Dhabi?

After the three practices on Friday and Saturday it was Hamilton that was appearing the faster of the two title contenders but qualifying saw Verstappen take pole position.

Finally, the hour came when all of the drama and deliberating would be decided. Lights out and away the drivers went with Hamilton having a magnificent start and immediately taking the lead back from his rival.

The Dutchman fought back into turn six and Hamilton went wide, over the run-off and kept his lead. Despite furious outrage from Red Bull, the Stewards decided that no investigation was necessary and Hamilton did not have to give up his first place.

Verstappen pitted on Lap 13 and his soft tyres were changed to the hards leaving Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez to keep Hamilton at bay.

Laps 20 to 21 saw Perez fighting his might to slow the seven time world champion down. His efforts did not go unnoticed as Verstappen was heard saying ‘Checo is a legend’ on the radio.

Hamilton took until lap 22 to retake first position and his championship title looked set until lap 56 of 58.

Williams’ driver Nicholas Latifi crashed and the safety car was brought out. Verstappen changed back to the soft tyres while Hamilton was still racing on much older and hard tyres. In an exceptionally controversial move, and won which Mercedes have attempted to fight, the race director Michael Masi permitted the cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to retake their positions behind the Dutchman. While Mercedes argued that all cars should have lapped themselves, the FIA retorted by saying ‘Toto we want to see racing.’

With one lap to go, Hamilton and Verstappen were almost back to square one: Hamilton had the faster card, but Verstappen had the faster and newer tyres.

Verstappen made his decisive move on turn 5, and despite best efforts from Hamilton to reclaim the spot towards turn 9, Verstappen was able to utilise his soft tyres and hold on to first place.

History was then made as Verstappen took his first ever Championship title, and in doing so, became the first ever Dutchman to become World Champion.

What has made this season different from other seasons?

Since 2016, it has predominantly been Sebastien Vettel in the Ferrari who has challenged Hamilton the most. However, he has not won a championship since 2013 and could not pose a great enough threat to take the title away from his former rival.

Hamilton has soared through the seasons with no great fear of being tested, until now.

The two championship contenders revealed themselves early on with Hamilton and Verstappen taking first and second place in the first four races.

The FIA has also been called into question multiple times for some exceptionally controversial decisions, especially regarding penalty points that seemed to have been given more to Verstappen than Hamilton. Unlike other seasons, however, it could be argued that they have been more focused on the racing battles and the creating the excitement of motorsport rather than sticking as closely to their own rules and regulations.

What happened in the 2021 season?

The Dutchman first saw his title possibility at the Monaco Grand Prix in May when he took the victory with the Briton finishing in seventh.

Azerbaijan was the first shock of the season as Verstappen looked set to take his first-ever GP there before crashing with just five laps to go. Hamilton could have taken the victory but locked up on the penultimate lap, finishing in 15th and it was Sergio Perez who ruled the day.

Verstappen won the next three races with Hamilton coming in second in two and fourth in the third.

Next came the British Grand Prix where Hamilton was able to overcome the first lap collision with his rival. The smallest of touches saw Verstappen spin off and crash into the wall while Hamilton was able to stay out and claim a home victory.

Verstappen took his next victory at the Belgium Grand Prix as the weather meant the race was abandoned and the qualification results were taken. The Dutchman won the next match once more in his home country before the two title contenders collided once more in Italy pulling both out the race.

It was Hamilton once more in Russia before he finished fifth in Turkey while Verstappen took second place. Verstappen took the next two victories before Hamilton produced one of the best drives of his career to take the Brazilian Grand Prix. The Briton then took the next two victorious in Qatar and Saudi Arabia and brought his points to level with his Dutch rival.

Mercedes have undoubtedly had faster cars all season but Verstappen’s aggressive and, at times questionable, driving has produced one of the greatest seasons in recent F1 history.

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