Max Verstappen has a specific reason for believing he would not be World Champion without the Abu Dhabi role played by Sergio Perez.
On the face of it, the outcome of the title decider at Yas Marina was shaped by the late Safety Car period which closed up the pack and allowed Verstappen a free shot at race leader Lewis Hamilton.
The Red Bull driver got past his Mercedes rival and stormed away to capture the title for the first time, denying the Briton a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ crown.
But Verstappen felt Perez’s contribution earlier in the race had been vitally important, when the Mexican duelled with Hamilton for a couple of laps – their slower times as a result allowing the Dutchman to close quickly on them.
Even though Verstappen subsequently stopped for a second set of hard tyres to drop much further back, the knock-on effect of Perez’s dice with Hamilton meant the defending champion would have lost track position if, like the Red Bull driver, he had stopped for fresh rubber when the Safety Car came out towards the end.
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) December 12, 2021
“I think without Checo I wouldn’t be sitting here right now, because then they would have had a pit gap with the Safety Car and stuff, so definitely Checo was driving incredibly today,” said Verstappen at the post-race press conference.
Perez ultimately retired from the race in slightly mysterious circumstances when called into the pits while running in P3 with an issue he appeared completely unaware of – a seemingly surprising call given it was the last time the RB16B would be used competitively.
He suggested afterwards that if he had broken down on track, the Safety Car may have had to stay out for the remainder of the race to deny Verstappen his late charge for glory.
Verstappen called Perez “a legend” on the team radio for the way he had defended against Hamilton and although his colleague has experienced an up-and-down first year with Red Bull, the new champion is clearly enjoying their association.
“When we started working together, it was always difficult to know exactly of course how it would work out,” said Verstappen.
“But very early on already, Checo is just an amazing human being, not only just to work with in F1 but just a super-nice person, a real family man as well and I’ve had a lot of good times with him.
“You could see he really means it and he means well and it’s very rare to have a team-mate like that and again, it just showed today he was a team player and I really hope we can continue this for a long time.”
Planet F1 verdict
Red Bull achieve their ultimate goal
Things fell Max Verstappen's way in the end, but Red Bull played the team game to perfection.