Overcoming Lewis Hamilton in the final lap of the Grand Prix Abu Dhabi, Max Verstappen ended seven years of dominance by Mercedes drivers in F1.
Verstappen wins first F1
This can be considered the most dramatic and exciting final race in the closing stages of the F1 season for many years. The level of surprise was even higher than when Hamilton himself beat Felipe Massa at Interlagos, Brazil 2008. However, the controversial rulings of track supervisor Michael Masi contributed to the series of events. unexpected “reversal” situation.
Grand Prix Abu Dhabi, with Yas Marinia racetrack, which is considered the home ground of Mercedes, because the German team always achieves very good results here. This year, this track was also renovated, becoming suitable for Mercedes’ forte. But the advantage of starting after the rhythmic coordination between the Red Bull duo in the qualifying round on Saturday 11/12 still gives Verstappen more confidence before the race to decide the championship.
However, Verstappen’s early advantage soon disappeared after Hamilton’s brilliant de-pa. The Dutch driver himself also started the race like a dream, despite having the advantage of starting with soft tires compared to the average tire of his opponent. Witnessing that the first place soon fell into the hands of a rival right from Turn 1, the Red Bull driver immediately accelerated and counter-attacked, closely following the opponent in the next corners.
The advantage from the soft tires helped Verstappen decide to slip in and brake late when the team reached Turn 6 after a straight stretch. The Dutch driver’s decisive and cunning handling phase made Hamilton forced to choose: either sidestep and fall behind; or collide with an opponent’s car – which Verstappen wanted.
However, experience and expertise help Hamilton avoid collisions, run off corners and regain the top position. Red Bull’s leadership immediately protested to the referees via radio, claiming that Hamilton had to return to the top, because he had illegally benefited from running short through the double turns 6 and 7.
However, the track supervisor Masi did not consider the collision and the short run of the British driver. He thinks that on the whole, Hamilton does not benefit from time when he has slowed down enough after running off and responding to Red Bull. “The friend team cornered him, all the advantage of running short was deducted by him before completing the first round,” Masi said. Verstappen immediately reacted via radio: “It’s unbelievable. What the hell are they doing?”.
The case is even more special, because before that, Verstappen had complained that he was treated differently by the referee at the Saudi Grand Prix. At that time, Red Bull also issued a series of statements implying that the FIA had pampered and favored Mercedes.
Ignoring complaints from the opponent, Hamilton, after overcoming difficulties and stabilizing at the top, quickly accelerated and continuously set the fastest-lap. The championship hopes of now are no longer in the control of Red Bull as Mercedes shows complete dominance on the track. By lap 15, the gap between the two leading drivers was approximately five seconds.
When both changed tires in lap 15 and switched to hard tires with a 1-pit strategy, Red Bull kept the number two driver – Sergio Perez on the track and asked the Mexican driver to switch to plan B. The intention of the Austrian racing team is revealed, Perez will be used as an obstacle, stopping Hamilton on the track. By lap 20, the Mercedes driver had caught up with Perez, at this time the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen was more than eight seconds. However, despite the anticipation, Mercedes did not expect Perez to hold them back so drastically. Perez’s role at first seemed to be to hold Hamilton in vain, but in the end had a great influence on the German team’s loss of victory.
Hamilton quickly overtook Perez at Turn 6, but Perez suddenly sped up and regained his position on the next corner. Next, the fierce turns and fierce defense of the Mexican driver made Hamilton not dare to attack early due to fear of collision. The British driver had to complain over the radio: “He races too dangerously”.
Although still surpassing Perez, Hamilton was narrowed by Verstappen to more than 5 seconds in this lap and continued to lose more than 1 second in the next lap. The British driver’s tire set was also significantly damaged. The distance between Hamilton and the opponent is now less than 2 seconds. However, after that, the British driver quickly accelerated and widened the distance to a safe level.
When the 1-pit strategy seemed to be nailed, Verstappen had no chance to turn the game around, an event on the track happened. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) broke down his car and left the C41 lying on the side of the road. Virtual safe car states implemented. Red Bull CEO Christian Horner criticized the track supervisor for not deploying safety cars.
Taking advantage of the virtual safety car status, in a situation with nothing to lose, Red Bull called Verstappen to switch to soft tires. Mercedes is confident in the speed with the existing hard tires, so it continues to let Hamilton stay on the track. The German team calculates that despite the advantage of the new tires, Verstappen does not have enough time to close the gap of 17 seconds now, when the race is only 20 laps.
In the next rounds, Verstappen continuously closed the gap but with very little extent. By round 51, when the race was only 7 laps, the distance between the Dutch driver and the first place was still 11 seconds. Silence fell over Red Bull’s technical area, as if they accepted reality, waiting for the checkered flag to fly, the disillusioned Verstappen newspaper crowned.
However, an unexpected event caused the race to quickly turn upside down. After a series of fierce confrontations with Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nicholas Latifi’s FW44 (Williams) – which is considered a satellite team of Mercedes – crashed into the barrier and fell to the side of the track at Turn 14. This time, the safety car is deployed on the track.
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