Watch: F1 Championship decided in dramatic fashion in Abu Dhabi
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Max Verstappen has won the F1 world championship in the most insane circumstances, being handed a miracle finish to claim his maiden title — but there may be a dramatic twist still to come.
Verstappen started on pole position at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but was beaten off the line by championship rival Lewis Hamilton as the Mercedes driver dominated the race.
Then with five laps remaining, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed and changed everything. Verstappen was about 10 seconds in arrears when the crash happened but was allowed to pit and get fresh soft tyres, while Hamilton was running on older hard tyres.
It looked as though Verstappen would have five lapped drivers in between him and Hamilton as the race wound down. That was until a call came through from officials that the lapped drivers could overtake the safety car, and Verstappen was next to Hamilton for the final lap once debris and marshals were cleared from the track.
While Hamilton fought hard to defend his position, Verstappen’s fresher tyres proved the difference and he overtook the Brit on the dramatic final lap to claim his first world championship.
Verstappen was in disbelief over the victory and sounded as though he was in tears crossing the line.
“Max Verstappen, you are the world champion, the world champion!” Red Bull boss Christian Horner screamed over radio. “You absolutely deserve it.”
Verstappen said: “I love you so much.”
“We needed a bit of luck and we got it,” Horner added. “We love you. We ****ing love you.”
Just before he got out of the car, Verstappen said: “This is unbelievable guys, can we do this for another 10 to 15 years together?”
‘This is not right’: Mercedes launch protests
Red Bull were rapt, hugging and celebrating, while Mercedes were devastated and team boss Toto Wolff was furious. The Silver Arrows lodged two protests in the aftermath, believing they’d been robbed.
“This is not right!” Wolff said as race director Michael Masi made the decision to allow the lapped five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to drive past the safety car at the death
Mercedes lodged two protests in the chaotic aftermath of the race, contesting contesting the safety car procedure which resulted in Verstappen overtaking Hamilton on the frantic final lap.
One of their appeals relates to Article 48.8 of the sporting regulations, which says “no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the Line (see Article 5.3) for the first time after the safety car has returned to the pits”.
Mercedes’ other protest relates to Article 48.12 of the sporting reguations, which says “any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car”.
Mercedes believe Verstappen broke the rules by edging ahead of Hamilton under the safety car. They are also questioning why race control ordered the five lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to overtake the safety car before the restart, but the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher were not.
At about 5.30am AEDT, the stewards made their first decision, throwing out Mercedes’ protest about Verstappen overtaking under the safety car.
“The Stewards consider that the protest is admissible. Having considered the various statements made by the parties the Stewards determine that although Car 33 (Verstappen) did at one stage, for a very short period of time, move slightly in front of Car 44 (Hamilton), at a time when both cars where accelerating and braking, it moved back behind Car 44 and it was not in front when the Safety Car period ended (ie at the line).”
Former F1 world champion Nico Rosberg said “in the document (rules) it says ‘all cars will be required to unlap themselves’ and yet they only let those five cars that were between Lewis and Verstappen unlap themselves. That’s where Mercedes are asking if it’s OK or not. But I guess in the end Michael Masi can decide what he wants, he’s the race director”.
Verstappen reacts to ‘unbelievable, insane’ drama
Verstappen was on cloud nine after holding the trophy aloft.
“It’s unbelievable. Throughout the whole race I kept fighting and to have an opportunity on the last lap, it’s incredible. I’m having cramp. It’s insane,” he said.
“I don’t know what to say. My team and (engine supplier) Honda, they deserve it. I love them so much and I really really enjoy working with them. This year has been incredible. Finally a bit of luck for me.
“I also need to say a big thank you to Checo (teammate Sergio Perez). He was driving his heart out today, it was great team work and he’s an amazing teammate.
“My team know I love them and I hope we can do this for 10-15 years together. There’s no reason to change ever, I want to stay with them for the rest of my life. I hope they let me.
“Christian and Helmut trusted me to be in the team in 2016, our goal was to be world champion and now we’ve done that.”
All hell broke loose after the result as the protests were lodged and everyone tried to comprehend what had just happened.