Christian Horner thanked Nicholas Latifi for his part in the astonishing World Championship climax – and insisted the stewards had made the right calls.
The Red Bull team principal was screaming with joy over the team radio at Max Verstappen within seconds of his driver taking the chequered flag to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – and the title to go with it.
Verstappen, who had been unable to match his championship rival Lewis Hamilton’s pace throughout the race at Yas Marina, was given one last shot at salvaging his hopes of seizing the crown.
It came as the result of a late Safety Car period caused by Latifi’s crash, with FIA race director Michael Masi declaring the track safe for the lights to turn green for one last racing lap – with the five cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen ordered to unlap themselves to set up a straight fight for glory.
At that point, Verstappen was on new soft tyres having been called into the pits by Red Bull, whereas Mercedes chose to keep Hamilton out on his old set of hards.
With that big advantage, Verstappen made the move on Hamilton and came home to win the race and the championship – pending protests, which ultimately failed, from Mercedes about both the way the restart had been conducted and an alleged overtaking infringement by the Red Bull driver.
🚨 BREAKING: Mercedes have lodged two protests with the FIA over alleged breaches of Article 48.8 and Article 48.12 of the Sporting Regulations.
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) December 12, 2021
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had urged Masi to revert back to the order from the last lap under the Safety Car to determine the result, but Horner backed the way the process had been handled – more so than when the stewards had refused to take action on lap one.
Red Bull had been unhappy that no action was taken when Hamilton built a bigger lead after running off the track when Verstappen tried to overtake him into Turn 6.
“I think I called it on the [Sky F1] commentary that it would need something from the racing gods in the last 10 laps, and thank you Nicholas Latifi for that Safety Car,” said Horner.
“I have to say with the stewards, we felt hard done by early in the race.
“They did great to get the race going again. We were screaming at him (Masi), let them race. That’s what we’ve been talking about all these years, let them race.
“This championship came down to the last lap, and a great strategy call to make that pit-stop, to take that set of softs, and then it was down to Max to make it happen.
“It’s unheard of to leave the cars unlapped. You could see they wanted to get the race going again, but they don’t need to catch up the back of the pack. They made absolutely the right call. Difficult circumstances for the stewards, we are all putting pressure on them, but they called it right.”