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Verstappen champion on last lap of epic season as Hamilton misses out on eighth title

Verstappen champion on last lap of epic season as Hamilton misses out on eighth title

Verstappen champion on last lap of epic season as Hamilton misses out on eighth title

Verstappen champion on last lap of epic season as Hamilton misses out on eighth title

Max Verstappen is an F1 champion for the first time and in the most dramatic of circumstances to deny Lewis Hamilton a record-breaking eighth title.

All seemed lost for Red Bull driver Verstappen up until lap 53 of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he trailed Hamilton by 11 seconds.

At that stage, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said "a miracle" was needed, and it duly arrived when Williams' Nicholas Latifi crashed into a barrier emerging from underneath the hotel complex.

It sparked a safety car and gave Verstappen a free pit stop, allowing him to switch to a set of soft tyres while Hamilton's Mercedes was running on hard rubber 40 laps old.

There was initial confusion as race director Michael Masi initially declared lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake, with five cars in between leader Hamilton and Verstappen.

Then there was a change of mind, leaving Verstappen right behind Hamilton as the safety car disappeared ahead of the last of the 58 laps at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Verstappen wasted no time in making his move on Hamilton, and despite a brave fightback from a driver who is still a seven-time champion, it was instead the Dutchman who took the chequered flag to clinch his maiden crown.

It initially seemed as if controversy would overhang the final fight of a remarkable 22-race campaign.

From second on the grid, Hamilton could not have made a better launch off the line, with a graphic showing his reaction time once the five red lights disappeared to be a tenth of a second quicker than polesitter Verstappen.

Thirty seconds later, the controversy that has followed the pair around of late struck again going into the turn seven left-hander at the end of the long back straight.

On approach, Hamilton left a gap that Verstappen needed no second invitation to go for, diving in with a late lunge.

In a bid to avoid contact, Hamilton was forced onto the runoff, retaining the lead as he returned to the track beyond turn eight.

It appeared initially as if the corner belonged to Verstappen and Hamilton would have to give the place back, but after a few anxious minutes the message eventually came through there would be no investigation.

Naturally, Red Bull were incensed, with sporting director Jonathan Wheatley quickly becoming embroiled in an exchange with FIA race director Michael Masi

Wheatley: "I have just seen it again, Max is ahead at the apex, stays on the track...

Masi: "Jonathan, he has forced him out there, that is why we asked him to give back all the advantage."

Wheatley: "Lewis left the track... oh, you have asked him to give back all the advantage..."

Masi: "All the advantage was already given back prior to the first lap ending."

Wheatley: "I am not sure we agree but understood."

When informed there would be no investigation, an exasperated Verstappen said: "That is incredible, what are we doing here?"

On Sky Sports F1, team principal Christian Horner said: ""We are a little bit shocked at that because apparently, Lewis gave his advantage back which we fail to see yet. As you can imagine, we are not best pleased."

Suggested that what goes around comes around given what unfolded in Brazil when Verstappen also forced Hamilton off track but there was no penalty, Horner said: "No, it is a total lack of consistency.

"The race director made it very clear before the race you have to stay within the white lines. Max did that, Lewis gained an advantage by going off track, he didn't concede it, he didn't give anything back so that was our position."

In a further exchange between Wheatley and Masi, the former said: "We are still struggling to understand it.

"It was a hard aggressive pass by Max but Max stayed fully on the track and he was ahead at the apex. He did everything right, he stayed on the track and at some point, the second car has to back out."

Masi replied: "Jonathan, the stewards have reviewed it and determined that all of the lasting advantage was gained and that Max forced that position there so they have said they have reviewed it but have not investigated it."

After 12 laps, Verstappen switched from his starting soft tyres to hards, followed by Hamilton a lap later in going from the medium compound to the white-striped rubber.

Verstappen dropped to fourth, Hamilton second behind new leader who was quickly caught but who put up a momentous fight with the Mexican driver on lap 20 as they exchanged the lead on four occasions.

Verstappen, who had been 8.2s adrift of Hamilton after lap 18, was back within sight of Hamilton again as the Briton finally managed to pass Perez into turn seven on lap 21, leading the Dutchman to declare: "Checo is a legend."

But Verstappen was unable to close further, only for a virtual safety car as Antonio Giovinazzi retired in his Alfa Romeo, to hand him an initial lifeline, taking on another set of fresh hard tyres.

With 20 laps remaining, Hamilton held a cushion of 16.2s, yet there was no charge from Verstappen as he failed to close in quickly enough.

And then came the "miracle" Horner had said was needed.

At the flag, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz claimed the final podium position ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in his AlphaTauri and team-mate Pierre Gasly, with Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas sixth.

The consolation for Mercedes is they have won an eighth consecutive constructors' championship.

For the record, the final points positions went to McLaren's Lando Norris, followed by Alpine duo Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc 10th.

Kimi Raikkonen ended his F1 career with a brake issue that sent him into barrier, and although he made it back to the Alfa Romeo garage, that is where he finished his 349th and final.

There was similar disappointment for George Russel whose three years with Williams before next year's move to Mercedes ended with a drive failure.

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