Max Verstappen has won the F1 Drivers Championship for the first time after a stunning final lap overtake on title rival Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes lodge protest to race stewards over late-race events
The race capped off what has been the most sensational duel since the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost between two ultra-competitive racers.
Coming into the race level on points, Verstappen took pole position on Saturday to give himself the advantage going into Sunday.
However, a lightning start from Hamilton saw him take the lead into the first corner before the controversy started.
Verstappen thought he had overtaken the Brit but Hamilton used the escape road as he ran out of track space.
The stewards decided he did not need to give the place back and he extended the lead over the struggling Dutchman, who couldn’t keep the pace up.
Later in the race, a virtual safety car saw Verstappen pit for fresh rubber while Hamilton continued on his hard tyres – a decision which ultimately may have been a costly one.
Verstappen was closing but Hamilton looked like he had enough of a gap to seal his eighth and record-breaking title.
However, Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought out the safety car with five laps to go in a development that would shrink the gap.
There were lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen and initially, race director Michael Masi said none of the lapped cars would be able to unlap themselves, thus giving a buffer between the two protagonists.
In a final twist to 2021, that decision was reversed meaning Hamilton and Verstappen were given a one-lap showdown.
The 24-year-old used the slipstream and fresher tyres to his advantage and overtook Hamilton to the jubilation of Christian Horner and Red Bull, while there was stunned disbelief in the Mercedes garage.
“It’s unbelievable,” said the 2021 champion. “Throughout the whole race I kept fighting then there was the opportunity in the last lap, it’s incredible.
“I don’t know what to say. My team and Honda deserve it.
“Finally a bit of luck for me. I also want to say thank you to Checo (Sergio Perez), he’s been a brilliant team-mate.
A disappointed Hamilton said: “Firstly congratulations to Max and his team. I think we did an amazing job this year. The team, everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, worked so hard all year in a difficult season.”
The gap at the top proved to be just eight points, though, Mercedes did win the constructors championship.
Next year begins at Bahrain on the weekend of the 18-20 March.