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Max Verstappen’s first world championship did not come without drama – Formula 1 diary from Abu Dhabi


A bizarre four-hour stretch that followed Max Verstappen’s crowning moment at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday saw the media hit pause on sending through their reports, and delayed Red Bull’s celebrations, as Mercedes launched two formal protests against the “classification established at the end of the competition”.

Around 11pm though, both protests were dismissed and Verstappen’s title victory was confirmed, much to the chagrin of Lewis Hamilton and his team, who have stated their intention to appeal.

Ricciardo: I think people’s TVs are going to explode

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Earlier in the paddock, Verstappen and Hamilton’s fellow drivers shared mixed views on how the action unfolded. The title was decided in a one lap shootout after the safety car came out in the latter stages of the race. Race control initially said that lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake before changing their position and announcing the lapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton would be allowed to overtake.

Several drivers admit they found the messaging confusing including McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who said the safety car helped him in Jeddah last week but had the opposite effect on him in Abu Dhabi.

“Obviously the magnitude of my 12th is not so big, the magnitude of the world title and how the safety car did that is completely much bigger, so I’m not going to give you my sad story today,” said the Australian.

“I’m honestly a bit speechless. I don’t know what to make of all that.

“Just when you think the season could not get any more dramatic, it does. I don’t even know if this is good because I think people’s TVs are just going to explode, I don’t think it can handle that much drama, I don’t think the watts on a TV can handle it. It was a lot.

“Obviously on one side I want to congratulate Max, first-time world champ, and obviously Red Bull, a team I know very well, I am of course happy for them. But I can’t say that in the same sentence and not say I feel for Lewis because he had the race under control and sometimes it doesn’t swing in your favour, the safety car – I mean it didn’t not only swing in his favour, it obviously cost him the title. I obviously do feel for him, so yeah, it’s a crazy end to the year.”

‘Max has been more unlucky, made less mistakes’

Ricciardo’s teammate, Lando Norris described the situation as a “controversial end” to the race, and the season, and felt uneasy about commenting on the matter.

“It’s very tricky. I don’t know what decisions were made based upon things stewards said in the first place. Apparently they said lapped cars weren’t going to be allowed to overtake, if that then made Lewis or made Mercedes make the decision to not box, but then later on they suddenly said, ‘Oh now they’re allowed to overtake’, then I guess that’s not acceptable. So I don’t know what was said or what was done. Controversial end, that’s what I can say.”

Norris added that he was “surprised” by the decision-making but ultimately gave credit to Verstappen for an incredible effort throughout the year.

“I’m happy for him. I congratulate him for what he’s done this season, because I don’t believe he’s had the better car all season,” said Norris. “I think the Mercedes has been the better car throughout the majority and Max has been more unlucky and he’s made less mistakes as a driver. He’s fought hard and he’s fought Lewis, who is a lot more experienced, won many world championships and so on.

“I also congratulated Lewis, because he’s also had an amazing season and done many things very, very well to go for a championship, so respect to both.”

‘I feel sorry for Lewis’

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso had given Verstappen a slight edge over Hamilton ahead of the weekend and the Spaniard was happy to see the Red Bull driver storm to a maiden world title, even if he ended up getting an assist from the safety car.

“Fantastic, I think he’s a champion, it was only a matter of time that he wins the trophy,” Alonso said of Verstappen.

“Today he was lucky; without safety car Lewis was world champion and with safety car Max is world champion so it’s a pure luck thing what happened today. And it’s going to be a big topic I guess but if you take the 22 races as I said on Thursday, any of the two could be a world champion. I think more than any other year, if you can split the trophy in two, this was the year to do it because both of them were outstanding.

“Sure (I feel sorry for Lewis) because Lewis was driving at another level, especially the second part of the championship. The Mercedes was a faster car, yes, but Valtteri (Bottas) was not second, it was Lewis putting that performance. So when you lose the championship because of a safety car in the last moment, for sure you feel a little bit sorry.”

Vettel: Leave the stewards alone

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel echoed Alonso’s views by congratulating Verstappen, who joins Vettel as the only drivers to win the F1 title in a Red Bull car. He also feel sorry for Hamilton and weighed in on the controversial calls made by stewards throughout the season.

“Everyone has an opinion, I think leave the stewards alone, it’s tough enough as it is,” said the German.

“Ideally we’d like more consistency but there’s also a human side, so it’s probably difficult to get it 100 percent right, but it has to be our target, so we need to see what we can improve.

“But I don’t think it has been any better or any worse than the past, with the exception of the fines for reprimands, in terms of cash, that’s just unnecessary; I think it looks stupid to ask for 10,000, 15,000, 25,000… I would like to see the receipt what happens with the money,” he added with a smile.

Max Verstappen

Image credit: Getty Images

Tsitsipas heaps praise on Max

With the whole world expecting a thrilling title decider in Abu Dhabi, some lucky few got to experience the season finale from the heart of the paddock as celebrities and sports stars turned up as invited guests in various team garages.

The fastest man on two legs, Usain Bolt, showed up to support the fastest man on four wheels, Lewis Hamilton, with the Jamaican superstar joining the Team Mercedes crew at Yas Marina Circuit.

Tennis world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas is a Red Bull athlete and was a guest of his sponsor’s team, pledging allegiance to Verstappen, of course.

“He’s a very aggressive driver, I think he stands out because he’s someone that’s very competitive, you can see it in his eyes. At the end of the day you just have to think about yourself when you’re racing out there and not be very sensitive to what’s happening around you and I think he has that attitude and he has been showing it throughout this season with great results; just getting podiums in most of the races,” Tsitsipas told Eurosport of Verstappen.

While many expected the tense battle between Hamilton and Verstappen to result in a crash, Tsitsipas predicted otherwise.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to crash, I think it’s going to be a very safe, but also very competitive race at the same time,” said the Greek.

“I feel like Max will eventually take the lead and win that race, I have a feeling for it, I think he’s going to go all the way.” He was not wrong!

British rapper Stormzy, who performed at the F1 on Friday, was also spotted, so were actors Gerard Butler, Eva Longoria and Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick, who was a guest of Aston Martin.

NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson showed up and was seen chatting to Alonso, while several star swimmers, in town for next week’s FINA World Swimming Championships, warmed up for their meet by enjoying the F1 action at Yas Marina Circuit.

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