Max Verstappen admits he “felt” for Lewis Hamilton after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, acknowledging his title rival had done “everything right” in the race.
A compelling season-long World Championship battle boiled down to the very last racing lap at Yas Marina, where Verstappen took advantage of his pit-stop made under Safety Car conditions to pass Hamilton who had controlled the grand prix from the start.
It was a remarkable turnaround on the day and the most heart-breaking of scenarios for Hamilton who, until Race Control decided controversially to turn the lights green for that final lap, must have thought a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ title was all but in the bag.
Relations between the two protagonists had worsened leading up to the decider as they fought each other hard on track, but respect was shown on both sides immediately after the race.
That has continued, Verstappen sympathising with the Briton in the media commitments he has carried out as the dust starts to settle on a remarkable climax to the campaign.
This is just unbelievable. I started racing with my dad many years ago. We dreamed of becoming a World Champion and now we are.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 12, 2021
“There was one side that was incredibly happy and one side that was disappointed,” the Dutchman told a selection of reporters including Motorsport.com.
“Of course I felt for Lewis. He did everything right, throughout the whole race. But F1 can be very unpredictable.
“And of course it can go either way. It could have been the other way around as well, where I would be controlling the race and then lose it on the last lap. That’s unfortunately also part of racing.
“Lewis is a great sportsman. It’s racing and we all have to deal with it, if it’s positive or negative. But he will come back again very strong because he’s an amazing driver.”
Verstappen said he considered his triumph a “miracle” because all hope looked to have disappeared when he could not match Hamilton’s pace throughout the grand prix.
The 24-year-old had started from pole position, but was beaten away from the line and despite making two pit-stops for hard tyres he was only able to significantly reduce the gap to Hamilton when his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez held up the seven-time champion.
“Of course I saw I was not catching enough,” said Verstappen. “So I told myself to just keep pushing until the end because I’m not gonna give up. And that’s what we did.
“The Safety Car came out, of course. We needed a miracle and it did happen, but you still need to then capitalise on that. You need to go for the overtake. That’s what we did.
“And yeah, it was a dramatic end for sure.”
Planet F1 verdict
Verstappen praises Hamilton after tough season
Max Verstappen has praised Lewis Hamilton as a great sportsman after a tough season.