Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the Formula One championship, denying Lewis Hamilton a record eighth title with a last-lap overtake to win the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix amid controversy and high drama on Sunday.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team took the constructors’ title for an unprecedented eighth year in a row, but its run of dual dominance was ended by the 24-year-old Verstappen, the first Dutch driver to win the crown.
Mercedes filed two protests after the race that might have changed the outcome, but both were rejected. The team, though, refused to drop the matter and said it had filed notice of intention to appeal.
“It’s insane,” said Verstappen of a race that started with fans on the edge of their seats and ended in an uproar, with lawyers looming.
Verstappen’s hopes soared when he qualified in pole position, sunk when he lost the lead at the start and rose again as the safety car came out and race director Michael Masi decisively pushed the boundaries late in the race.
“This is unbelievable guys! Can we do this for another 10-15 years together?” he said over the radio after the most emotional lap of his life.
The floodlit race at Yas Marina avoided the collision many had feared — with Verstappen positioned to be champion if Hamilton failed to earn any points — but instead left arguments raging long after the finish.
“We needed a bit of luck and we got it,” said team boss Christian Horner, who said earlier in the race that it would take a miracle to win.
As Verstappen and Red Bull bosses shed tears of joy, Mercedes’ management turned on Masi.
“Michael, this isn’t right,” Mercedes principal Toto Wolff had said over the radio to Masi after the Australian’s handling of the ending of the safety car period left some feeling Hamilton was robbed.
The safety car had been deployed after Canadian Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams with five laps to go and Masi then decided not to demand all lapped cars pass it before resuming the race.
That allowed Verstappen — on fresher, faster tires after strategic stops — to get close and go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton for the lead.
Just when it seemed the race would finish behind the safety car, which would have handed Hamilton the title, it turned into a sprint finish.
“We were screaming at the end to let them race,” said Horner, whose partner Honda is now leaving the sport. “It is unheard of to leave the cars unlapped. They wanted to get the race going again. They absolutely made the right call.”
Hamilton, who had been heading for a fourth successive Grand Prix win, congratulated the new champion.
“I think we did an amazing job this year, with my team. Everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, and here, worked so hard this whole year,” he said.
“It’s been the most difficult of seasons and I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be a part of the journey with them. We gave it everything this last part of the season and never gave up, that’s the most important thing.”
Verstappen ended the season with 10 wins to Hamilton’s eight, having also led more laps and taken more poles and podiums.
After 22 races, Verstappen had 395.5 points to Hamilton’s 387.5. Mercedes scored 613.5 to Red Bull’s 585.5.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz finished the race in third place, with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda fourth and team mate Pierre Gasly fifth.
Horner hailed Verstappen’s triumph as Red Bull’s biggest achievement in Formula One.
The team won four successive drivers’ and constructors’ titles from 2010 to 2013 with Sebastian Vettel before the Mercedes era started.
Mercedes had won every title since 2014.
“Mercedes are such a quality team and they’ve got stronger and stronger over the years. And that’s what’s made this so intense,” said Horner, who has traded barbs with Wolff all year.
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