Max Verstappen has won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and hence the 2021 Formula One World Championship after trailing Hamilton until the very final lap when an unexpected safety car restart turned the table. Carlos Sainz finished third for Ferrari.
When the lights went out, Lewis Hamilton made a strong getaway, taking the lead before the first corner and forcing Verstappen to slot into second place, just ahead of Sergio Perez. Traction was similar, but Hamilton's reaction time was 0.25s compared to Verstappen's 0.35s.
Behind them, Sainz moved up into fourth while Norris lost third place and settled for fifth. Just like the other Ferrari, Leclerc also gained a position into 6th, followed by Tsunoda as Bottas lost two places. Ocon, Ricciardo, Alonso and Gasly behind maintained their starting positions.
As predicted though, the title fight was soon heating up as on the first lap, Verstappen had a slipstream on Hamilton and make an aggressive passing move into the subsequent corner. Though Verstappen managed to keep two wheels on the track, Hamilton opted to cut the corner to avoid a collision. The stewards decided "no investigation necessary", despite repeated complaints by Red Bull to force Hamilton to give first place back.
By lap 10, Verstappen started complaining about grip level on his soft tyres. Having flat-spotted his mediums during Q2, Red Bull switched to softs for Q2 and therefore this first stint, leading into an earlier stop compared to the Mercedes drivers and Tsunoda. Indeed, Verstappen pitted on lap 14, changing to hard tyres.
Mercedes reacted swiftly and decided to call Hamilton into the box the next lap. This brought Sergio Perez in the lead with Hamilton second. Verstappen on the other hand first had to pass Norris and then also Sainz. Verstappen made a clean DRS pass on the Ferrari on lap 18, but by that time his disadvantage to Hamilton amounted 9 seconds.
At that time, Hamilton ended up in striking distance of Perez. The Mexican of course quickly was messaged to "try to contain Lewis". It is exactly what Perez did, reducing his pace dramatically and holding up Hamilton. A lap that was 7 seconds slower than usual triggered Hamilton to call it "dangerous driving" but in truth, he was probably a bit too naive when he went back to the racing line after passing Perez on the back straight, thinking Perez wouldn't attempt to make a divebomb. In the end though, that plan worked well for Red Bull as Verstappen's gap to Hamilton had been cut down to just 1.8 seconds.
Lap 28 marked the end of an era as Raikkonen ended up in the barriers with a brake problem but then still managed to get it back into the pits to retire from the race, and his Formula One career. After 19 seasons in the sport, and one World Championship win, the Finn failed to make it to the finish of his final race.
At the same time, Russell's gearbox problems intensified and eventually left him without gears for some time. The Englishman thereby ended his Williams career, ready to switch to Mercedes in 2022.
On lap 35 Giovinazzi wondered if he could perhaps spice up the show, so he managed to park his car in a very inconvenient spot. Half a lap later, Masi triggered a VSC period on about 1.5 laps. After Hamilton was first told to stay out, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Alonso and Gasly all pitted, with the latter two enjoying it greatly as it was about perfect timing to switch from their hards from the start to mediums for their final 20-lap stints.
The VSC period ended before Hamilton pass the pit entry again, forcing Hamilton to continue. Hamilton was worried by the move, saying "a bit of a risk leaving me out, no?", but then again, if they would've pitted, Red Bull would probably have done the inverse anyway.
When the track went green again, the gap between the front two was 18 seconds with 20 laps to go. That gap steadily reduced and fluctuated a bit due to traffic, until it went into 8s range.
Then, Latifi crashed his Williams singlehandedly 5 laps from the end, causing more worry for Hamilton as Mercedes opted not to pit him to avoid losing the position if the race would end under safety car. Both Red Bulls were immediately pitted, but Perez was called into the pits one lap later to retire the car.
Following some more discussions between Red Bull, Mercedes and Masi, the race got restarted one lap from the end after the lapped cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen. This decision was made after a complaint from Red Bull when Masi decided first not to let the lapped cars past, then reversing that decision to allow those in between Hamilton and Verstappen to pass.
So, the race went on on the final lap and with Verstappen on new soft tyres, there was really no way to defend, so Verstappen even passed the Mercedes before the back straight, leaving Hamilton no chance to still get it back.
Verstappen went on to celebrate while Hamilton parked his car in the pitlane, completely disillusioned after having had the race completely under control until that final safety car.
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||58||1:30:17.345||26|
|4||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda||58||+5.692s||12|
|5||10||Pierre Gasly||Alphatauri Honda||58||+6.531s||10|
|7||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||58||+59.200s||6|
|8||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||58||+61.708s||4|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||58||+64.026s||2|
|11||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Mercedes||58||+67.527s||0|
|12||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Mclaren Mercedes||57||+1 lap||0|
|13||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Mercedes||57||+1 lap||0|
|14||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||57||+1 lap||0|
|15||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda||55||DNF||0|
|NC||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||50||DNF||0|
|NC||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||33||DNF||0|
|NC||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||26||DNF||0|
|NC||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||25||DNF||0|