Lewis Hamilton lost the 2021 title to his nemesis Max Verstappen, who had a phenomenal season in which he won multiple races and became one of the most popular drivers for winning hearts. He also helped Lewis Hamilton win two more titles before retiring from Formula 1.
Max Verstappen, the son of former Formula One champion Jos Verstappen, has been a sensation in his first season with Red Bull Racing. He is currently second in the standings, and he won his first race at the Spanish Grand Prix.
It was evident from the outset of the year that Mercedes would not have an easy time winning the championship in 2021.
The incumbent world champions were suddenly on the back foot after seven years of no significant challenge for the drivers’ or constructors’ titles. As Mercedes struggled to adapt its 2020 vehicle to regulatory revisions aimed at slowing the whole field to safeguard Pirelli’s tyres, Red Bull emerged as the team to beat in preseason testing.
The regulation revisions certainly affected Mercedes’ design idea more than its competitors’, but it also resulted in one of the most competitive seasons to history, with Red Bull finally getting its vehicle and engine package right from the start.
Hamilton lands the first punches.
Despite Mercedes’ early troubles, Hamilton won the first race in Bahrain, and the two title contenders began to swap wins in the first part of the season. Hamilton’s biggest points lead came after a commanding triumph at the Spanish Grand Prix, but it was his last win in 11 races, and it was followed by his poorest performance of the year at Monaco, when he finished eighth despite teammate Valtteri Bottas driving in the top three until a pit stop incident.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku was a title-defining milestone for both drivers. For the most of the race, Verstappen seemed to be on his way to a comfortable win until his right rear tyre ruptured at over 200 mph with only five circuits to go. The crash caused him to withdraw, and the race was halted while track workers cleaned up the damage, leaving Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and Hamilton in a straight duel for the win.
Getty Images/Clive Rose
Towards the restart, Hamilton had a stronger getaway, but he left his vehicle on the incorrect brake setting before of the first curve and deep into the run-off, putting him at the rear of the race. With his tyre failure, Verstappen had lost 25 points in the blink of an eye, and Hamilton did the same at the restart, with Perez winning the race.
Verstappen immediately moved on from his Baku loss, winning the French Grand Prix against the odds and putting in two spectacular runs at Red Bull’s home track in Austria. Verstappen and Red Bull seemed to have finally created enough momentum to take the title by storm, but then came the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
The first massive conflagration
The rivalry between Verstappen and Hamilton was so tight that it appeared inevitable that they would clash at some point throughout the season. In Italy (Imola), Portugal, and Spain, the two had come dangerously near to colliding, but Hamilton consistently pulled out at the last minute to avoid a collision.
Hamilton was the aggressor at Silverstone, coming from behind and having to make a move stick to stop Verstappen’s championship momentum. After battling for position for the first two-thirds of the lap, it became evident that the race would have to be decided either before or at the 190 mph Copse Corner. The sweeping right hander is just wide enough for two vehicles to race wheel-to-wheel, but it needs both drivers to have immaculate judgment and a willingness to give each other room.
As Hamilton parked his vehicle on the inside, Verstappen refused to give him any more room, and the cars tangled as the front of Hamilton’s car washed wide on a tighter angle. Verstappen’s vehicle was in a four-wheel skid and on the verge of a horrific catastrophe in a fraction of a second.
From 190 mph, the automobile came to a complete stop against the barriers, exerting 51 times the force of gravity on both man and machine. Verstappen was fortunate to walk away from the crash unharmed, but he took the circuit doctor’s advise and went to the hospital right afterwards for additional examinations. Meanwhile, Hamilton stayed on track and won the race despite a 10-second penalty for provoking the crash.
The dynamics of the championship contest shifted from that moment forward. In the standings, Hamilton grabbed a much-needed 25-point advantage, but Verstappen seemed more motivated than ever to claim the championship.
At Monza, there was a second collision.
During the Italian F1 Grand Prix at Autodromo di Monza, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided. Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images, photo by Dan Istitene
The next time the two drivers collided came on the first lap of the Italian Grand Prix at the Roggia chicane. In the battle for second place, Verstappen once again left little room for Hamilton, forcing the Mercedes to cross the run-off and dumping Hamilton to the back of the grid.
Later in the race, Verstappen’s tardy pit stop placed them again on a collision path at the first chicane on Lap 26, but neither driver was ready to give way this time. Hamilton seemed to have taken the lead after emerging from his own pit stop, but Verstappen left the nose of his vehicle in the turn and the two collided, throwing the Red Bull over the top of the Mercedes.
As Verstappen’s right rear tyre crossed over the Mercedes, it collided with Hamilton’s helmet, and only the halo cockpit protection on Hamilton’s vehicle kept his head from being crushed. As a consequence of the incident, both drivers were forced to withdraw from the race, and the battle lines were once again drawn in the media.
At the Russian Grand Prix in late September, Hamilton ultimately won his 100th race, reclaiming the championship lead, while Verstappen finished second despite starting from the rear of the grid due to an engine penalty. In Turkey, Hamilton switched engines, falling ten positions on the grid, but he could only finish fifth, with Verstappen taking second place behind Bottas.
Hamilton fights back from the brink of disaster.
Verstappen responded with back-to-back victories in the United States and Mexico, just as Mercedes seemed to be on the verge of a comeback. Verstappen seemed to be on his way to winning the championship after his emphatic victory in Mexico, with the form guide predicting a hat-trick of triumphs at the following round in Brazil.
Verstappen’s prospects looked to improve when Hamilton’s rear wing failed a routine post-qualifying test on Friday, and he was sent to the foot of the field for Saturday’s sprint race. The disqualification, however, appeared to rekindle Hamilton’s fire, and equipped with a new engine, he sliced his way through the field in both the sprint race and the grand prix to win a spectacular victory on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia is in shambles.
On lap 42, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided. Getty Images/Lars Baron
With a commanding win in Qatar, Hamilton gained momentum heading into the last round in Saudi Arabia, where he could draw level on points with Verstappen if he won the race ahead of the Red Bull. That is precisely what occurred, but the manner in which the two drivers arrived was nearly unbelievable. Hamilton finally came out on top after a two-way duel for the lead in which Verstappen twice bypassed Turn 2 in an attempt to maintain position and was twice instructed to hand up the lead, but only after another disputed crash.
This was the strangest of the three races this season, as Verstappen slowed to allow Hamilton to pass, only for Hamilton to slow up behind him for fear of handing Verstappen the DRS advantage on the next straight. Hamilton’s front wing was damaged in the collision, and the stewards eventually faulted Verstappen when it was shown that he had stepped on the brakes just before of Hamilton.
The outcome tied them on points with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but there was still one more surprise in this incredible season.
A fantastic conclusion
Getty Images/Lars Baron
The issue began on the first lap, when Verstappen drove Hamilton wide at Turn 6 to grab the lead for a short moment before Hamilton cut Turn 7 and rejoined the track in first position. Red Bull was furious, demanding that Hamilton relinquish the lead, but the stewards decided that no inquiry was required since whatever advantage Verstappen earned by forcing Hamilton wide was offset by Hamilton bypassing the second half of the chicane.
Over the middle of the race, the Mercedes driver expanded his advantage, and Verstappen’s hopes faded as he battled to match the Mercedes’ performance. On Lap 53, the scenario was thrown on its head when Nicholas Latifi wrecked his Williams behind the W Hotel at Turn 14. Hamilton seemed to be on his way to a seventh world championship.
The Safety Car was deployed as a result of the crash, enabling Verstappen to stop for fresh tyres while Hamilton remained on track. By making the late pit stop, Red Bull had nothing to lose, while Hamilton risked losing the lead when it was still unknown if the race would conclude under the Safety Car.
By the penultimate lap, Latifi’s vehicle had been removed completely, letting the race to continue for one more lap. As a consequence of Verstappen’s pit stop, there were five lapped cars on the road between Hamilton and Verstappen, and there was little time for the whole field to unlap itself as per the regular Safety Car restart regulations.
Under duress from Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, race director Michael Masi decided to allow the five cars to unlap themselves while the rest of the field was forced to stay in place. The decision was very divisive and unprecedented, prompting Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff to vent his displeasure to Masi over team-to-FIA radio.
Despite Mercedes’ dissatisfaction with how the restart was handled, the race resumed with a lap to go, and Verstappen took advantage of his fresher tyres to beat Hamilton for the lead into Turn 5. Hamilton clawed his way back through Turns 6, 7, and 8, but lacked the speed to try a move around the outside of Turn 9.
Verstappen won the race and, with it, his first world championship. It’s unclear if the argument about the Safety Car period will finish with the chequered flag, implying that F1’s longest season may not yet be ended.
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