Race Report: Max Verstappen wins Abu Dhabi GP and F1 title

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202112120280 // Usage for editorial use only //

One of the most exciting Formula 1 seasons in recent memory has come to pass and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continued to deliver controversy at the start of the race with the end of the race offering litigation and protests despite a last-lap pass by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for the win and the 2021 world championship.

The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton had a great start, took the lead over Max Verstappen who dove down the inside of Lewis, who ran wide in turn one cutting the corner, allowing him to re-take the lead. That was the first controversy and the race stewards said no “investigation needed” as Lewis gave back the advantage he had gained from cutting the corner. Obviously Red Bull didn’t agree but they had little else to do but put their heads down as the race went on.

Lewis, in a dominant Mercedes, controlled the pace for most of the race but Max kept his Red Bull within Lewis’s pit window meaning Mercedes needed to play a more conservative strategy (being in the lead) and opt for track position knowing that if they would lose that track position, anything could happen with safety cars, red flags or even altercations between Max and Lewis which would give Verstappen the edge as he had more race wins under his belt.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez did a masterful job of holding up Lewis to give Max a chance to close the gap but even after that herculean effort, with Max on equal tires as Lewis, the Red Bull couldn’t overhaul the pace of the Mercedes. It was going to take some incident, such as a safety car, to help them get back within striking range with a chance.

Red Bull got that chance when Nicholas Latifi (in a Mercedes-powered car, so hold your Timo Glock-style conspiracy theories) crashed bringing out the full Safety Car. Mercedes, with Max still in their pit window, chose to keep Lewis out again for track position but having nothing to lose, Red Bull boxed Max for fresh Soft compound tires.

As there were only a few laps remaining, race director Michael Masi, originally stated that the lapped cars would not be released to move them out of the way but as the crash was cleared quickly, it seems that the race director chose to move the cars between Max and Lewis out of the way in order to have a square fight for the last lap. For Mercedes fans, this was anything but a square fight because Max and Red Bull had gambled and stopped for fresh soft compound tires meaning he would be much quicker than Lewis on the restart.

And so he was. Max passed Lewis on the final lap of the race to take the win and the 2021 F1 world championship. Obviously Mercedes were stunned, having controlled the entire race in a dominant car, and the protests, litigation and meetings with the FIA immediately began but the race stewards have dismissed their protests leaving Max Verstappen the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Champion.

There’s an irony in this finale as it highlights the festering notion, that quite honestly we’ve been talking about since 2007, that the FIA and it’s lack of consistency creates differing results from race-to-race and as time has progressed, the teams have become more litigious over the years. As race stewards have tried to adjudicate the outcomes of races based on results of an action and not the action itself and teams have become accustomed to lobbying the new race director, it is a breeding ground for hints, innuendos and allegations to fester.


A win for Red Bull and Max Verstappen who claimed the race win and the 2021 Driver’s Championship. If you park the entire race re-start incident, the fact is they had a car that needed an advantage. Their hand was played during qualifying with Soft compounds but then they had to gamble twice during the race on an aggressive strategy to get them on fresher tires than Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It was their only chance and yet they would still need some luck which they got in the form of Nicholas Latifi and a Safety Car. You have to be in it to win it and Max drove a fantastic race staying within Lewis’s pit window and forcing Mercedes to play it safe but it was the luck of a safety car and the manner in which the race re-started that gave him the chance he needed to get his slower Red Bull, on fresh tires, ahead of Lewis’s faster Mercedes on worn tires.

A win for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez who de-throned Valtteri Bottas as the best teammate and tail-gunner by putting on a masterclass on how to hassle and hold up your teammate’s nemesis. It was a great fight to hold Lewis Hamilton off with fresher tires and made a huge difference in the race by allowing Max to close a significant gap and keep himself inside Merc’s pit window which allowed Max’s race strategy gambles to work.

A big win for Carlos Sainz who, unlike his teammate Charles Leclerc, stayed out for track position and it worked for him getting Ferrari on the podium and into third in the constructor’s championship and it moved Carlos into 5th in the driver’s championship.

A big win for Yuki Tsunoda who finished ahead of his teammate, Pierre Gasly, to give Alpha Tauri 4th and 5th. It’s particularly good for Pierre who struggled all weekend with his car.

A win for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon who got both cars into the top 10 with an 8th and 9th place finish respectively. The points haul and late-season performance allowed Alpine to jump Alpha Tauri for 5th in the constructor’s championship.

A win for Mercedes who have won their 8th straight Constructor’s Championship which is an incredible achievement by anyone’s measure! It may be bitter sweet given the way the race ended but it is where all the money comes from and that’s a huge victory for them and to be honest, more representative of all the men and women who work tirelessly at that team to win.


It’s hard to give Mercedes a “fail” as Lewis seemed firmly in control but with a critic’s hindsight, you had a team who was playing conservative and favoring track position, despite their car’s clear pace advantage and in the hands of a 7-time champ, while the challenger threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at them and that aggressive strategy, juxtaposed with Merc’s safe strategy, put Max in a position to win. One could argue that had they ceded track position, on fresher tires, Lewis and his Merc would have been more than capable of passing Max but then passing Max isn’t an easy thing to do so you can see their dilemma. Valtteri was no help as he drove like a driver competing in his last race for a team.

A fail for Charles Leclerc who boxed during the VSC and while that helped some, it worked against him and then he had a moment where he ran wide as Max re-entered the track after his pit stop. With Sainz on the podium, you have to think that perhaps Charles left some points on the table but it doesn’t matter, Ferrari were able to overhaul McLaren as best-of-the-rest.

A fail for Alfa Romeo who ended Kimi Raikkonen’s final race in F1 with a brake issue and then Antonio Giovinazzi stopped too prompting a virtual safety car.

A fail for Williams as George Russel stopped with loss of power and Nicholas Latifi hit the wall bringing out the safety car that overturn the apple cart.


I’ve been critical of some of the races that Derrick Warrick has officiated on and some of his decisions as well as his comments in the press over the years. I am sure Derrick is a wonderful guy, I just haven’t agreed with a few of his race steward decisions. Like Martin Brundle, I think he and his team got the call wrong on the first lap and Lewis should have given that spot back. Having said that, given the pace of the Mercedes, I am not sure it would have changed the end result but you never know. With clean air and the lead, your options change and Red Bull could have used that flexibility for sure.

I’m not sure how I feel about the team bosses lobbying Michael Masi during the race such as Toto Wolff’s call for no safety car for Bio’s stranded car or Jonathan’s grousing about the no-call on lap 1 but it may make for good entertainment. Still, imagine if you were Michael and had to listen to that kind of petitioning all race long? Not an easy job.

It’s a shame that Honda is leaving the sport because Max and Red Bull just gave them their first Driver’s Championship since Senna in 91 with his hat trick of pole, win and fastest lap.

Pirelli Key Moments:

  • Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won his first world title in dramatic fashion at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with three pit stops: taking the lead on the final lap after stopping for P Zero Red soft tyres during a safety car.
  • Verstappen started from pole on the soft compound but was passed by his title rival Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) who began the race on the P Zero Yellow medium. Verstappen was the first of the two to make his stop from soft to P Zero White hard on lap 13, followed one lap later by Hamilton, who switched from medium to hard. Verstappen then made a second stop for hard tyres under a virtual safety car on lap 36 before his third and final stop for softs under a full safety car with five laps to go.
  • There was a wide variety of strategies seen throughout the race, with five different run plans in the top five at the finish, influenced also by the safety car periods.
  • Eight drivers – including the polesitter – began the race on the soft compound, with nine on the medium and just two (AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Alpine driver Fernando Alonso) on the hard tyre: both of whom finished in the points.
  • The race got underway in warm and dry conditions with 28 degrees centigrade asphalt and 25 degrees ambient: similar to qualifying and staying consistent to the finish.

Abu Dhabi GP Results:

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda5811h30m17.345s1m26.103s326
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes5851+2.256s1m26.615s118
3Carlos Sainz Jr.Ferrari580+5.173s1m27.618s115
4Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda580+5.692s1m27.496s212
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda580+6.531s1m27.342s210
6Valtteri BottasMercedes580+7.463s1m26.862s18
7Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes580+59.2s1m26.762s26
8Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault580+1m01.708s1m27.607s14
9Esteban OconAlpine-Renault580+1m04.026s1m28.249s12
10Charles LeclercFerrari580+1m06.057s1m28.433s21
11Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes580+1m07.527s1m28.303s10
12Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes570+1 lap1m28.723s20
13Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes570+1 lap1m28.567s20
14Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari570+1 lap1m29.457s20
Sergio PérezRed Bull-Honda556DNF1m26.419s30
Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes500DNF1m29.293s10
Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari330DNF1m29.442s10
George RussellWilliams-Mercedes260DNF1m30.647s00
Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari250DNF1m29.698s10
Overall Race
race-report-max-verstappen-wins-abu-dhabi-gp-and-f1-titleWhat a crazy race! But then it's been a crazy season and perhaps a fitting, litigious end to a long and exciting F1 season.
5 4 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Melton Ricke

What a season! Now for the race recap, season recap, and 3 months of Albon’s cats which is definitely worth sticking around to hear! ;-) Good work TPF!!

Paul Kiefer

Also a fail / WTH for the FIA. They threw the sport under the bus in the name of “the show”. The show ain’t worth jack right now.


No, Sergio was around 30s behind lewis

Last edited 2 years ago by PMR
Paul Kiefer

Yet, if the FIA had followed the rules correctly, it was either going to be no cars getting unlapped and Max having to fight through four cars of lap traffic to get to the win….or allow all the lapped traffic and the race would finish under the safety car because it would take that long. Either way, that was supposed to be what happens under the rules if the FIA did their job correctly. FIA International Sporting Regs Article 48.12. I expect things to be done correctly, not do things halfway for some guy’s entertainment, much less Michael Masi’s.

Glen Mhor Whisky

It was bizarre and I guess we’ll see some court action, which no one really wants to see when it comes to sport. I know Horner was saying ‘let them race’ and that’s what he’s been asking for, but we know if the roles were reversed it’d be different. I’m not sure how much racing you can get when someone is on softs and the other is on 40 lap old tyres. As a fan of F1 in general, we just need clarity going forward. If the drivers and teams aren’t sure then how can we follow things either? Anyways,… Read more »


NC, a big thumbs up for you all at TPF. It has become increasingly difficult to find places on the internet with balanced views on F1, not messed up by biased reporting or biased user comments. You’ve been my go-to for a number of years now, bit before the name change, keep it up!

Regarding the race, I agree this is a fitting end to this season, with all its controversies. Regarding the outcome, I’d say the right guy has won, (even / especially) considering all the controversies. Looking forward to the podcast on this one!

Mike Smith

I find Damon Hill to be fairly unbiased.

Mike Smith

Apologies. I thought my sarcasm was apparent. I totally agree with what you have stated.

Was it just me, or did Mr. Hill (Respect to the former champion) leave the interview when Horner showed up in the post race interviews? He said nothing at all during the segment and after the solo shot of Horner’s arrival panned back to the whole panel, Damon was gone.


Thanks NC – great summary, I have to agree with you on the first corner pass – funniest comment – after Mercedes explained their position (that Max forced Lewis off the track) Brundle stated – we used to call that “racing”… It was tense all the way through, and the season being effectively decided in a one lap sprint seems appropriate, and somewhat of an analogy to the era…. WTH – McLaren where were nowhere, Lando was doing OK until the puncture, and as big Danny Ric fan, he really had nothing happening in this race… Role on Ground Effects… Read more »

Glen Mhor

Sad end for Kimi.


And Jenson Button

Glen Mhor Whisky

True, although David did have a habit of crashing now and again, but you’d want to see a last flurry of magic on the track.

Worthless Opinion

I’d suggest the sad end for Kimi has been going on all year, maybe two. He reminds me of the person at a busy restaurant who sits in his booth reading the paper after his bill is paid, while a line of people waits outside in the cold. WTF was the point of having him there all year I’d like to know? People criticize Rosberg but I much prefer his approach.


My take on all the nonsense? Bah humbug. They better fix the rules or simply have none…. They’re promoting bumper cars anyway, so why not.


The end of the race just struck me as too close to the competition cautions of Nascar (might be called something different). It felt too contrived. But overall excellent driving this season from Max, despite his weaker car. In that regards he is a deserving champion, but I don’t think I can be a fan of his overall. To me he is still that too aggressive driver that in seasons past might have killed or seriously injured other drivers. Hopefully this doesn’t entrench that in his driving because the rest of his skill is worthy of a multi championship driver.


No matter what, the season is over let’s not have any more rulings that will change the results. Now for the important question, will Haas be competitive next year?

Terry H

I don’t really care for how Masi handled the end of the race. Either all or none of the lapped cars should have been let around. Full disclosure I did want LH to win, but had the roles been reversed this still would not have been the way to end the race. In any case it’s been a good season. I am really happy Honda is no longer a GP2 engine and Williams finished 8th.

Tim C

I haven’t seen the race yet, had to tape it. My question, before I spend any of my free time actually watching it, is this . . . Did Masi and the FIA get the last caution right? What does the actual rule/regulation say? Should all the lapped cars have been released or just those between Lewis and Max? I honestly didn’t care/don’t care who won the title as long as it was won fairly according to the rules. Otherwise, at least to me, there has to be asterisk next to the winners name. If the rules were not followed,… Read more »

Tim C

It would be interesting to know exactly how this type of situation has been handled this year (or over the last year or so) by the FIA & Masi. What has the FIA historically done in these type of situations? Have they only allowed a few cars through, like what happened today? Or, have they let all the lapped cars through? If the FIA has let all lapped cars through this year (or the last few years) then Mercedes could certainly base their appeal on past practice. Also, what about lapped cars further down the order that are in the… Read more »

Matthew Royer

Be sure to note Carlos Sainz 3rd place spot was compromised by Masi’s desire for a 1 lap show at the front. That’s what happens when some lapped traffic is given priority over lapped traffic further behind.



Matthew Royer

Carlos Sainz almost lost 3rd place because the lapped traffic in front of him weren’t told to unlap themselves. If Merc takes this to court, that info is particularly damning for Masi. He prioritized entertainment over the integrity of the sport. He’s also on record back in 2020 saying SC procedure calls for ALL lapped cars to unlap themselves, even if it takes a little longer for that to happen.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matthew Royer
Trever Braun

I’m on board with wanting a green flag finish–noble and sincere that is. But I don’t like calling audibles or first-of events with the Safety Car; it should be as sacred as the pit lane or it becomes just another sporting element to be (further) managed and gamed. What squeaky doors are open now that this has occurred? Masi will never have a moment’s peace under yellow. I think the Mercedes appeal will produce changes intended to prevent race control from showing as much of an obvious hand in the race. Even if justified, a reversal isn’t desirable. It would… Read more »


Why did Perez retire? I have yet to see the reason given,certainly the driver didn’t seem aware of any problems when asked to retire the car.

Ian Bell