Max Verstappen claimed his maiden F1 Drivers’ Championship crown in the most controversial of circumstances in Abu Dhabi at the end of the 2021 season. Lewis Hamilton seemed poised to secure the title after leading on the final lap. However, the removal of the safety car and a ruling from the race director to allow only four lapped cars to distance themselves away from Hamilton and Verstappen presented the Dutchman with a chance to overtake the Brit. Verstappen held his nerve under pressure and beat out Hamilton for the crown.
Controversy reigned after the contest with Mercedes launching an appeal against the ruling from race director Michael Massi. However, the result stood after the German outfit opted to accept the outcome begrudgingly. The result arguably was important for Formula One as a whole, ending the dominant run of Mercedes at the top after reeling off seven Drivers’ Championship wins on the bounce, including six from Hamilton and one from Nico Rosberg.
Verstappen and Red Bull now have the opportunity to establish their own legacy, and if you bet on Paddy Power online you will find odds of 2/1 for the Dutchman to win the crown in the 2022 F1 season. Hamilton has refused to confirm whether he will return in the next campaign, although he still has ample time to take the outright lead as the most successful driver of all time. The Brit is tied with Michael Schumacher on seven titles apiece, and a victory at Abu Dhabi would have cemented his legacy. After his near-miss Hamilton will have plenty of motivation to return to the top of the sport, although the presence of Verstappen and the resurgence of Red Bull will provide a tough obstacle.
When Hamilton lost out in 2016 to Rosberg, the German retired immediately from the sport. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari did provide a semblance of a threat, but he failed to sustain his efforts over the course of the 2017 and 2018 campaigns. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas failed to muster a charge in 2019 through misfortune and lack of a clinical edge. Verstappen showed signs of the future in 2020, but retirements plagued his term due to his own exuberance and naivety on the track along with a few technical problems.
Verstappen learnt from the experience and harnessed it into a charge in 2021. He was not faultless, but was clinical when it mattered the most. His performance over the course of the season earned him the title albeit in slightly fortuitous circumstances, and not too dissimilar from Hamilton’s first Drivers’ Championship crown in 2008 when his last-lap effort denied Felipe Massa in Brazil. It took the Brit six years to build on his triumph before securing his second title in 2014.
The lesson is there for Verstappen about the difficulties of repeated success at the top of the sport. Every driver will now be gunning for the 23-year-old next term in a bid to knock him off the top. It will not only be Hamilton, but also George Russell and his own team-mate Sergio Perez, who will have the best opportunities. Verstappen will have to learn that reaching the pinnacle of Formula One is a great achievement, but remaining there for a period of time is an even tougher feat.