Fireworks from start to finish – how Verstappen became F1 champion in 2021

By Sports Desk December 12, 2021

The 2021 Formula One title race will be spoken about for years to come.

Max Verstappen took the championship after a quite remarkable Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory on Sunday, sensationally passing Lewis Hamilton on the final lap.

Stats Perform reflects on the key races in a sensational season.

EMILIA ROMAGNA GRAND PRIX (Apr 18)

A flying Hamilton start hinted at another year of dominance, as he won three of the first four grands prix. He also secured two poles in that run, reaching 100 for his career; at the time of his unprecedented century, the rest of the drivers on the grid had a combined 129 poles.

The first signs of a genuine title tussle came in raceweek two, when Hamilton started from pole but did not win. In the rain at Imola, the Mercedes man crashed just before a red flag for an incident involving current and future team-mates Valtteri Bottas and George Russell.

Although Hamilton recovered to finish second, he reflected on "the first time I've made a mistake in a long time" as Verstappen got off the mark.

AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX (Jun 6)

Verstappen responded to Hamilton's strong form with his own run of four wins in five races, although he also endured frustration in the one grand prix over that stretch that escaped his grasp.

The second real moment of genuine drama in this increasingly exciting battle saw Verstappen's tyre blow out as he was coasting to victory in Baku, even if team-mate Sergio Perez was the man to profit.

Red Bull found further consolation in Hamilton's result: a miserable P15. However, that pointless return was not necessarily a surprise to the defending champion, who had forecast problems after a seventh-placed finish at the previous street race in Monaco.

BRITISH GRAND PRIX (Jul 18)

This back-and-forth came to a head at Silverstone. Verstappen's first career sequence of three victories in a row had opened up a 32-point gap to Hamilton, while Mercedes were on their worst winless run (five races) of the hybrid era, but the first high-profile contact between the two contenders slowed the Dutchman's momentum.

Verstappen won the inaugural sprint race but did not last a lap of the main event, sent into the barriers by Hamilton's attempted overtake at Copse Corner.

While Hamilton went on to triumph and close to within eight points – despite a 10-second penalty – Red Bull team principal Christian Horner fumed at his "dirty driving", which he claimed cost the team £1.8million. Red Bull's appeal for a harsher punishment was rejected.

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Aug 29)

P2 in Hungary after Silverstone had given Hamilton a narrow lead heading into the mid-season break, but the resumption at Spa did not go at all as the Silver Arrows superstar would have planned.

Woeful conditions meant a delayed race started behind the safety car before being red-flagged after two laps and then called off, with enough of the grand prix completed to award half points – a decision described by third-placed Hamilton as "all a money scenario".

Verstappen had pipped Russell to pole and so was granted a precious victory in this season of fine margins.

ITALIAN GRAND PRIX (Sep 12)

Verstappen nudged ahead of Hamilton again prior to the Italian GP and protected that position in the race – albeit in unorthodox fashion.

Neither Verstappen nor Hamilton finished the grand prix after the Dutchman caught the kerb when looking to pass his rival and landed on top of the Mercedes, with the halo protecting its driver.

"I am so grateful I am still here," Hamilton said afterwards, with Verstappen handed a grid penalty for the next race. The Red Bull man still extended his advantage thanks to P2 in Monza's sprint race.

RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX (Sep 26) 

Events in Sochi summed up the unpredictable nature of this season, with momentum swinging to and fro throughout the weekend, kickstarted by Red Bull's call to change Verstappen's engine and have him line up at the back of the grid.

Hamilton started in fourth after a pit-lane crash in qualifying but put himself in position to steal victory when poleman Lando Norris span off three laps from the end in yet more treacherous conditions.

That meant a long-awaited 100th F1 triumph for Hamilton – in his 281st race – but secured only a marginal lead over Verstappen, who brilliantly battled back to P2.

SAO PAULO GRAND PRIX (Nov 14)

The tour of the Americas had put Verstappen firmly back in control prior to the final Brazil leg, having held off Hamilton at the last in the United States before easing to victory in Mexico. He looked on course for more joy in Sao Paulo, too.

Hamilton was already set to serve a five-place grid penalty when his qualifying time – the fastest on the grid – was struck off for a DRS infringement, meaning he had to start from 10th even after recovering from 20th to fifth in the sprint race, in which Verstappen claimed P2.

Sensationally, Hamilton roared back to win ahead of Verstappen, who escaped punishment for forcing his rival wide early in the race. These various factors counting against Hamilton "woke up the lion", Toto Wolff later claimed.

SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX (Dec 5)

With no room for error, Hamilton won again in Qatar and then continued his fine form in highly controversial circumstances in Saudi Arabia.

Hamilton started from pole after Verstappen's qualifying crash, but the spectacle was only just beginning; last Sunday saw two red flags and a succession of safety cars that meant Max could not escape Lewis after taking the lead.

Verstappen twice gave the position back to Hamilton's due to infringements, while he was further punished for an additional flashpoint that saw the Dutchman brake, triggering a collision. Hamilton dashed clear to send the title race into its final grand prix all square for only the second time ever.

ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX (Dec 12)

Even with the pair level on points heading into the deciding race, few could have imagined the championship would be settled in such dramatic fashion. Hamilton looked to be coasting to victory in the closing stages.

The Mercedes man had been ahead of pole-sitter Verstappen since passing him on the start, able to preserve that position despite Red Bull's claims of an illegal early move.

It was the Silver Arrows who were furious come the end of the race and the season, however. The race director allowed Verstappen to take on Hamilton at the last, snatching victory on the final lap of the campaign – this tying the latest date in the calendar a title has been settled.

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