13 December 2021, by Victoria Séveno
In what turned out to be a nail-biting end to the 2021 racing season, Max Verstappen managed to claw back into first place in the final lap, claiming victory in Abu Dhabi and becoming the first Dutch driver ever to win the world championship.
Hard-won victory for Verstappen in Abu Dhabi
After years of Lewis Hamilton facing little to no competition for the title, 2021 saw Verstappen fight back. Throughout the course of the year, the two drivers battled for every point they could in an attempt to climb to the top of the points table and comfortably secure a championship win.
However, the final few races of the season saw Verstappen lose his lead, and after a crushing defeat in Saudi Arabia, the whole championship came down to just one weekend. Initially, things had looked good for Verstappen, who managed to qualify in pole for Sunday’s race.
That hope dwindled fairly quickly, however, as a slow start for Red Bull saw Hamilton pull into first position with Verstappen pushing to catch up with the seven-time champion for the majority of the race. A little support from Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez helped Verstappen close the gap, but with the race approaching its end it seemed as though Hamilton would be able to add an eighth world championship to his belt by the end of the weekend.
But, a last-minute crash by Williams’ Nicholas Latifi saw a safety car introduced for the final few laps, and after Verstappen went to the pits for this third tyre change, he was able to close the gap between him and Hamilton. As the safety car was lifted just in time for the final lap, the whole season – and the championship – came down to just a few minutes of racing. In spite of Hamilton’s best efforts to fight for the win, he couldn’t compete against Verstappen’s fresher tyres, and a hard-fought battle saw Verstappen come out on top, crossing the finish line just in front of his British rival.
Dutch King and Prime Minister congratulate Verstappen
Almost five million people tuned in to watch Verstappen claim victory in a race that will go down in sporting history. His win on Sunday saw Verstappen – who was born in Belgium to a Belgian mother and Dutch father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen – become the first-ever Dutch F1 world champion.
Dutch media and celebrities were quick to celebrate the victory and congratulate Verstappen on his achievement. King Willem-Alexander praised the racer’s patience and tactics throughout the race, while Prime Minister Mark Rutte called it a “historic day for Dutch sport.” “Congratulations on this phenomenal achievement,” the Prime Minister tweeted.
While this is a big moment for the Netherlands, it has not been without controversy. Hamilton’s team at Mercedes have petitioned the FIA multiple times to overturn Verstappen’s win due to a handful of technicalities regarding the deployment and withdrawal of the safety car. While Stewards have so far upheld their decision to name Verstappen world champion, dismissing Mercedes’ various protests, the eight-time constructors’ champions have announced their intention to appeal the decision.