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Abu Dhabi GP: Max Verstappen takes F1 title from Lewis Hamilton on final lap after late controversy

A dramatic and controversial season ends with a dramatic and controversial final lap as a Safety Car wipes out Hamilton's 12s lead and gives Verstappen, on fresh tyres, an unexpected chance to overtake and claim F1's title; Mercedes lose post-race protests but lodge intention to appeal

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Watch the incredible end to the Abu Dhabi GP and the 2021 title fight as Max Verstappen passes Lewis Hamilton on the final lap for the F1 world championship.

Max Verstappen has become Formula 1 world champion for the first time after an extraordinary, controversial finish to the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP which saw him overtake Lewis Hamilton on the final lap after a dramatic late Safety Car intervention.

Mercedes lodged two protests after the race concerning the result but both were dismissed by stewards on Sunday night.

However, the team have lodged their intention to appeal the verdict concerning Safety Car procedures and now have until Thursday to formalise any official challenge to take it on to the FIA's International Court of Appeal.

Hamilton appeared to be heading for a record eighth drivers' crown after overtaking the polesitting Verstappen at the start - despite lap-one controversy at Turn Seven - and holding a lead of 12 seconds with just six laps to go.

But a crash for Nicholas Latifi in the Williams brought out the Safety Car and created all manner of contention to end a season filled with drama on a highly controversial note.

Red Bull pitted Verstappen for new soft tyres, while Hamilton stayed out in the lead to keep track position on his older set.

Verstappen rejoined with five lapped cars between himself and Hamilton in the queue behind the Safety Car.

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A message from Race Control initially stated that lapped runners could not overtake, to the surprise of Red Bull boss Christian Horner, but a second message halfway around the penultimate lap gave the green light for that to then happen - but only the five drivers running between the championship's top two at the time.

That recreated the Hamilton-Verstappen order at the front and the race was soon restarted for the 58th and final tour.

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Huge drama as Nicholas Latifi goes into the barriers during the Abu Dhabi GP

Amid protestations from an angry and disbelieving Mercedes boss Toto Wolff in radio communication with FIA race director Michael Masi, the race resumed for its final 3.28 miles and Verstappen made his tyre advantage count by overtaking Hamilton with a late braking move down the inside at Turn Five.

Holding off his Mercedes rival's initial attack back down the next two straights, Verstappen completed the rest of the lap in the lead to take the win - and the world title crown - away from his Mercedes rival.

Verstappen becomes the first Dutchman to win the title and the second champion for Red Bull after Sebastian Vettel, the last non-Mercedes driver to take the crown in 2013.

"It's unbelievable," said a disbelieving Verstappen, who at 24 is the sport's fourth-youngest world champion.

"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."

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A stunning performance by an extraordinary talent, and an outstanding season of racing: Max Verstappen wins the 2021 F1 World Championship.

Despite the huge disappointment of the stunning late turnaround just as he appeared on the cusp of yet more history, Hamilton sportingly went straight over to congratulate Verstappen in parc ferme.

Hamilton's father, Anthony, did likewise with Max and his dad, Jos.

"Firstly congratulations to Max and to his team. I think we did an amazing job this year," said Hamilton, F1's outgoing champion after four consecutive titles.

"My team, everyone back at the factory, have worked so hard this whole year, it's been the most difficult of seasons. I'm so proud of them and I'm so grateful to be a part of the journey with them.

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Podium reactions from the top three as Max Verstappen took the win in Abu Dhabi ahead of title rival Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz.

"This last part of the season we gave it absolutely everything and never gave up."

Hamilton had hoped to become the sport's eight-time world champion but remains tied with Michael Schumacher on seven for now.

Mercedes still clinched a record-extending eighth consecutive Constructors' Championship from Red Bull, but that impressive achievement is likely to offer little solace for them in the immediate aftermath of Sunday.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez dropped out of the race late on while running third, giving Ferrari's Carlos Sainz the final podium berth of the season and ensuring the Spaniard finished ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc, who was in 10th, in the season's standings with fifth in his first year at the Scuderia.

AlphaTauri finished in fine fourth and fifth places with Yuki Tsunoda, achieving easily the best result of his inconsistent rookie season, ahead of Pierre Gasly. Valtteri Bottas was sixth in his final race for Mercedes ahead of his 2022 move to Alfa Romeo.

Abu Dhabi GP result: Top 10
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
5) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
6) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
9) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
10) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

The full race result

Verstappen's 'miracle' arrives as controversial finish angers Mercedes

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Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyse how Max Verstappen won the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

"The pace of the Mercedes is just too strong today. We're going to need a miracle to turn this around."

The resigned-sounding words of Horner from the Red Bull pit wall in live conversation with the Sky F1 commentary team with 10 laps of a race to go that Hamilton was leading by 10s.

Despite Verstappen having taken advantage of a 'free' second stop for fresh tyres under a lap 36 Virtual Safety Car, the Dutchman's initial charge back at the Mercedes had faded. Five laps later though, and that 'miracle' Horner had hoped for suddenly presented itself.

Running a lapped 16th, Latifi lost control of his Williams rounding Turn 14 and slammed into the barriers. A Safety Car to clear away the Canadian's broken car and the scattered debris was inevitable; it was duly called.

Holding track position so close to the end, and with it the provisional drivers' title, Mercedes were never going to pit Hamilton, especially with it unclear whether there would even be time for the race to restart.

So the Briton continued on to follow the freshly-dispatched Safety Car.

But Red Bull clearly had nothing to lose and so brought their man in again, this time for a new set of the quickest soft tyres.

With the whole field now running at slow speed behind the pace car, Verstappen re-joined still in second place but behind five lapped runners - Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.

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Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyse whether Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton during the safety car at the end of the Abu Dhabi GP after Mercedes launched a protest over the incident.

On lap 56, two from the end, the world TV feed displayed the message from Race Control: "Lapped cars will not be allowed to overtake."

In a conversation played out a lap later, Horner asked Masi: "Why aren't we getting these lapped cars out the way?"

Masi replied: "Christian, just give me a second. My main big one is to get this [Latifi] incident clear."

Midway around that penultimate lap though and lapped runners were now instructed to overtake, although only the five between the two title contenders and not those further back in the pack behind Verstappen.

It was also soon also signified that the race would restart for a dramatic winner-takes-all 58th and final tour.

"Michael, this isn't right!" said a disbelieving Toto Wolff from the Mercedes garage.

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Last lap drama from Christian Horner's Cam.

One lap later, and with the destiny of the world title having dramatically changed hands in the final 90 seconds of the season, Mercedes' anger was off the chart and led to their quickly-filed protests to the stewards as Red Bull's unexpected celebrations began.

How Hamilton seized the early lead from Verstappen

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Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go wheel-to-wheel and the Mercedes goes off track down at Turn Seven!

Almost inevitably in this of all seasons, the race had started with controversy on the very first lap.

Despite expectations that Verstappen would easily convert his hard-won pole position into a first-corner lead due to the fact he was starting on faster tyres than Hamilton, it was the medium-shod Mercedes that got the better getaway and seized the initial advantage before the opening left-hander.

Verstappen was not going to let that go without a fight, however, and made a late lunge down the inside of Hamilton as they arrived at the new-look Turn Seven hairpin for the first time.

There was no contact between the cars this time but still contention as Hamilton took evasive action and went right across the run-off area.

Although Verstappen stayed on track and Hamilton did not in this case, Masi was happy that Hamilton had effectively reset the previous gap on his return to the circuit and was happy for the Briton to continue in the lead without the need for an investigation or the positions being inverted.

Hamilton then set about steadily opening his lead, with Verstappen's soft tyres predictably going off sooner than Hamilton's mediums. Red Bull stopped Verstappen for the first time on lap 13; Mercedes responded with Hamilton a lap later.

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Epic stuff at the front as race leader Sergio Perez battles hard to keep Lewis Hamilton frustrated and allow Max Verstappen to reduce the gap.

Red Bull kept Perez in their second car out though so he could act as a spoiler in front of Hamilton. Although Hamilton caught the Mexican quickly enough and overtook at the start of lap 20, Perez regained the place through the next DRS zone.

Verstappen was now suddenly back in the picture; Hamilton's 8s advantage over the Dutchman whittled down to under two thanks to the other Red Bull's delaying tactics.

"Checo is a legend," said an approving Verstappen over team radio.

Still, Hamilton regained the lead from Perez for good on lap 21 and then set about pulling away from Verstappen once more with what appeared the clearly quicker race car.

With the title seemingly slipping away, Verstappen's second stop on lap 36 placed him 20 seconds adrift and, although he initially took around eight seconds back out of that in 12 laps that followed, his charge had certainly slowed. considerably and a grandstand finish to the season was looking unlikely.

But then came Latifi's crash, the lap-36 Safety Car and that hotly-debated restart process which all combined to ultimately change the destiny of this year's world championship, right at the very last.

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