Crazy, bonkers, insane, unacceptable. Those are just some of the words used to describe one of the most dramatic Formula 1 seasons in recent history, which on Sunday produced a fitting climax as Max Verstappen claimed his maiden world title by passing championship rival Lewis Hamilton on the very last lap in the final race of the year.
Verstappen called his title-clinching victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix “insane” but perhaps a better description of Decider in the Desert, as F1 dubbed it, is “controversial”. Far from content with landing an eighth straight constructors’ title, Mercedes were fuming with the finish, filing two unsuccessful appeals about the outcome of the race having felt the rules were not applied correctly by race director Michael Masi.
A late safety car brought race leader Hamilton, who had led for 51 laps of the 58-lap finale after jumping pole sitter Verstappen on lap one, back to the pack. With Verstappen’s Red Bull on fresher tyres following a late switch under the safety car, Hamilton was powerless to stop his adversary sweeping by him to clinch the most dramatic of wins.
Mercedes To Fight on
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was just one of several races to shrouded in controversy with the British, Belgian, Brazilian and Saudi Arabian events all sparking arguments in the pit lane as the rivalry between Red Bull and Mercedes boiled over. Team bosses Christian Horner and Toto Wolff will certainly not be sending one-another Christmas cards this year with Mercedes indicating they haven’t given up hope of overturning the Abu Dhabi result.
The threat of this season spilling over into 2022 overshadows what has been a remarkable year, packed full of drama and excellent racing, headlined by Hamilton and Verstappen’s rivalry. The duo were head and shoulders above the rest of the grid, winning a combined 18 of 22 races between them. The duo finished in the top two places on 13 occasions – a record for Formula 1 – while Verstappen set a record for podium finishes, clinching his 18th and most important at the Yas Marnia Circuit.
It was a season of record-breaking achievements as Hamilton became the first driver ever to reach the 100-win milestone with victory at the Russian Grand Prix, while he also brought up his century for pole positions in Spain. The one record he really wanted was an eighth world title but that will have to wait for now.
Story of the Season
Despite Hamilton winning three of the first four races to start 2021, Red Bull proved significantly quicker in the main than Mercedes for the first half of the season, Verstappen rattling off three dominant wins in Austria and France to seize the initiative.
Such was the gap between the two teams that entering the British Grand Prix Red Bull were being tipped to run away with the title. There was a sense of desperation that Hamilton needed to claim victory at Silverstone and it lead to the first major flashpoint of the year as the Brit and the Dutchman collided, resulting in Verstappen being spun into the wall as Hamilton claimed the victory.
That set the tone for the rest of the year with the two coming together once more in Italy when Verstappen failed to yield, ending up with his car on top of Hamilton’s as both men were forced to retire.
The momentum in the title race swung back and forth all year, with the lead changing hands four times, but Verstappen looked to have struck a fatal blow when winning both the United States and Mexican Grands Prix to move 19 points clear of Hamilton with four races to go.
Back came the reigning champion though, rattling off three straight wins – the last of which came in Saudi Arabia after surviving driving into the back of Verstappen – to set up the infamous decider with the top two drivers entering the final race locked on the same points for the first time since 1974.
While Hamilton versus Verstappen dominated the season, there were other noteworthy incidents, including Esteban Ocon winning his first race following a bonkers Hungarian Grand Prix. Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed his first win since Monaco 2018 with victory in Italy as McLaren enjoyed a bounce back year, while we saw former world champion Kimi Raikkonen bow out.
After one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent F1 history, it’s only fitting that the 2022 campaign is set up to be as volatile, at least on paper. Major technical changes are to be put in place regarding the aerodynamics of the cars in an effort to create more exciting racing and effectively reset the Championship.
Despite all the uncertainty about what affect the new rules will have, Hamilton is the 4/5 favourite to win back the drivers’ title, with Verstappen 27/10, while Hamilton’s new Mercedes team mate George Russell is a 23/4 chance.
The countdown is already underway for the new 23-race season getting started in March and even with all the changes being made, 2022 will be hard-pressed to recreate the drama of 2021.
*All odds correct at time of writing.