From lights out to the chequered flag, we were all mesmerised as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battled on track for the championship crown. However, it all came down to a mind-blowing final lap, and we’re still trying to process what the hell just happened.
Taking different directions from the beginning, Verstappen started on the softs with Hamilton on the medium tyres. A dream start for the seven-time champion saw him snatch the lead into Turn 1.
Battling their way down to Turn 6, Verstappen lunged up the inside, squeezing Hamilton tight as the Mercedes went off-track. Despite much protesting from Red Bull, the stewards deemed no investigation necessary, and Hamilton held the lead.
Verstappen then boxed for hards on Lap 14, finding himself stuck behind Carlos Sainz, nine seconds adrift.
Mercedes chose to cover off his stop the following lap. The problem was Red Bull had an ace up their sleeve, race leader Sergio Perez. Playing the teammate role to perfection, Checo put on a storming defence to keep Hamilton behind and allow Verstappen to close in.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen’s final F1 race and George Russell’s last race with Williams came to an early end when the pair retired mid-way with mechanical problems.
In the lead, Hamilton pulled away from Verstappen once again until Lap 36. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed as Antonio Giovinazzi parked on the side of the track giving the Dutchman a window to box for hard tyres.
Not wanting to lose track position, Mercedes kept Hamilton out, and with 19 laps to go, it looked like Verstappen had an impossible task to close a nearly 18-second gap.
Then everything changed. On Lap 53, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed into the wall at Turn 14 and brought out the Safety Car. Since they had nothing to lose, Red Bull boxed Verstappen for softs as six backmarkers separated the title contenders.
Confusingly race control ordered the lapped cars not to overtake then changed their mind, allowing Verstappen to sit on Hamilton’s rear as the Safety Car ended, leaving fans baffled and Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff furious.
A last-lap sprint on fresher tyres saw Verstappen pounce, diving down the inside of Hamilton to take the lead. Corner-by-corner, the pair fought side by side, but ultimately it was the Red Bull who crossed the line first to seal his first World Championship and end Mercedes’ era of domination.
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) December 12, 2021
An explosive ending to an incredible season surrounded in controversy until the final moments. Why have we got a feeling this isn’t quite over yet?
Congratulations Max and Red Bull!