Red Bull Racing Honda’s Max Verstappen has won his first Formula 1 world drivers’ championship after finishing first at the very dramatic and eventful Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. With 26 points (including one for setting the fastest lap of the race) scored in the final round of the 2021 F1 season, the Dutch driver’s final tally of 395.5 points was enough for him to take the title ahead of close rival and seven-time world champion, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team’s Lewis Hamilton, who had 387.5 points.
At 24 years and 73 days old when he won the championship, Verstappen is the fourth youngest F1 driver to do so, although he is the first to win in a Honda-powered car since Ayrton Senna accomplished the same 30 years ago in 1991 with McLaren. Verstappen began his F1 career at the first free practice of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix before starting his first F1 race with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2015 – he was the youngest to do so for both.
In 2016, he would transfer over to the Red Bull team from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards, remaining there through to the start and end of the team’s partnership with Aston Martin, where he finished third in the drivers’ championship in 2019 and 2020. In both those seasons, as well as the recently concluded 2021, Red Bull cars were powered by Honda power units.
Sadly, Honda announced that it will leave the motorsport as a power unit supplier at the end of the 2021 season, but Red Bull will continue to use Honda power units from the 2022 season to the end of 2024 during the motorsport’s engine development freeze, with the newly-formed Red Bull Powertrains taking over Honda’s F1 engine project.
Prior to the final and 22nd race of the 2012 season, Verstappen secured nine wins, including his home race at the Dutch Grand Prix, along with multiple second-place finishes, an 18th and 9th place finish as well as two retirements. Trading rounds with Hamilton on the regular, both drivers entered the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix levelled at 369.5 points.
Verstappen qualified first for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but his start was less than desirable after giving up his position to Hamilton on the opening lap, with the British driver going over the run-off area. The title contenders would come in for their first pit stops, with Verstappen doing so on lap 13, followed by Hamilton a lap later.
This left Sergio Perez in the lead, who did his best to hold off Hamilton on laps 20 to 21, with his teammate dubbing him a “legend.” Perez would then allow Verstappen to past him to continue his chase, although the top two spots remained the same until the safety car was brought out on lap 53 due to a Nicholas Latifi crash at turn 15.
The deployment of the safety car saw Red Bull Racing Honda bring in Verstappen for a fresh set of soft compound tyres, while Hamilton was unable to pit. On lap 56, with the safety car still out, there were five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen, but this changed on lap 57 when the those cars were allowed to pass the safety car, setting the scene for a one-lap shootout.
On lap 58, the last of the race, Verstappen made his move entering turn 5 and held on the position until he saw the chequered flag, and with it, his entry into the exclusive club of world champions. You can check out the race highlights on the official Formula 1 YouTube page, here.
“It feels incredible to be world champion and I couldn’t have asked for a more insane last race of the year. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, from not really having a chance of winning until the last lap, everything came together, and we had to go for it. I kept saying to myself, I am just going to give it my all and I have until the end and that is what we did,” said Verstappen.
“I said it was going to need something from the racing gods in the last ten laps and thank goodness for that safety car. It has been a great competition this season and for Max to win the World Championship, it is not just about the race here, it is about the whole year and how incredible and consistent he has been as a driver,” commented Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing Honda.
“Congratulations to Max on his first world championship title and to Red Bull Racing, our partner since 2019. I watched the race at HRD-Sakura and was very impressed by Max and the team who never stopped challenging for the world championship title until the end,” said Toshihiro Mibe, director, president and representative executive officer of Honda Motor Company.
He added, “we also thank Scuderia AlphaTauri with whom our association with Red Bull began, as well as our suppliers and all our fans who have always supported us. For Honda, this title is the goal we set ourselves ever since we returned to F1 in 2015 and today we have written a new chapter in Honda’s history. I’d like to thank all the Honda employees who have made it possible. Well done, you did it!”
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