Formula 1 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Verstappen wins first world title in a hotly contested race

Grand Prix

Dec 29th, 2021

Formula 1 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Verstappen wins first world title in a hotly contested race

Formula 1 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was held at the famous Yas Marina Circuit, which was built on the man-made Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

This was the last race of the current season, and both the championships were to be decided with the waving of the chequered flag on the final lap of the season. 

What made this a tensed race from the very start was that both the championship contenders came into the weekend with 369.5 points. Per the F1 2021 driver standings, whoever of the two wins this round becomes the F1 World Champion in the Driver’s category. 

Max was in P1 by virtue of winning one more race than Hamilton, but Mercedes was the team to beat on the Abu Dhabi track, which was seen as more suited to the Mercedes machines than the Red Bull cars. 

Verstappen managed to pull a blinder on Saturday by taking P1 ahead of the two Mercedes cars, thanks to a helping hand from teammate Perez. However, on the race day, Max had no answer to the pace of Mercedes and was bound to lose the race and the title. 

Race control made a controversial decision on the last safety car, and this allowed Max to attack on fresh tyres on the last lap and pass Hamilton, and thus, won the race and the title. Mercedes did win the 8th constructors title, setting up a new record.

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Pre-Race Preparations & Practice 

Thursday Preparation

Weather is always good in this part of the world, and it looked that way for the whole duration of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021. The circuit was modified at two places to aid overtaking and make racing more exciting. 

First, the turn 4 and 5 chicane in sector 1 was replaced by a hairpin leading to the first long straight of sector 2. Second, the chicane at the end of the second straight was removed and replaced with a wide-curved hairpin. It reduced lap time by 10 seconds and increased race laps to 58.

Pirelli brought the three softest compounds for the final race of the season – C3 (White) the hard tyre, C4 (Yellow) was the medium tyre, and C5 (Red) was the soft tyre.

Friday Practice

Verstappen started the weekend on a perfect note by going quickest ahead of the two Mercedes drivers and Perez at the end of FP1. Lewis managed to finish on top at the end of FP2 ahead of Ocon and Bottas. Verstappen was only 4th quickest and a bit slower than Lewis Hamilton.

Pole position is not that important in this circuit since overtaking is possible during the race. Sergio Perez was 5th quickest ahead of the second Alpine of Alonso. The Alpine car looked like a decent car for another good result on Sunday after a storming drive by Ocon during the Saudi GP. Tsunoda was 7th fastest in FP2, ahead of Leclerc, Sainz and Gasly.

Saturday Practice

Lewis continued where he left off on Friday evening by topping the timesheets at the end of FP3 on Saturday afternoon. Verstappen was within three-tenths of Hamilton in P2 and ahead of Bottas. Perez was in 4th place ahead of Norris and Yuki Tsunoda. Gasly was there right behind his teammate and ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo and Leclerc.

F1 Abu Dhabi Qualifying

The Mercedes AMG car was flying in the hands of Lewis and Bottas as they finished the Q1 session on top and nearly half a second faster than the leading Red Bull. Russell, who has been brilliant throughout the season on Saturday, couldn't do it for the last time in 2021 and was knocked out along with his Williams teammate. 

The two Haas cars and the iceman Kimi Raikkonen, on his final qualifying and race in Formula 1, was also knocked out at the end of Q1.

Red Bull and Mercedes went for the medium tyres at the start of Q2, and it looked like both would start the race on yellow tyres. A lock-up by Verstappen gave him a big flat spot on his front left tyre, forcing Red Bull to swap to soft tyres for the second run and start the race on less durable tyres. 

Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly, Giovinazzi, Stroll, and Vettel, failed to register a spot for the top 10 shootout.

Verstappen did a blinder first lap with the help of a tow from his teammate Perez and set a time that remained unbeatable until the end of the session. Lewis did improve his time on the second run but couldn't outdo Max’s time on his first attempt. 

Lando Norris was the star of the session after qualifying in P3 to end a stellar year on a high. Perez was 4th ahead of Sainz and Bottas. Leclerc 7th, Tsunoda 8th, Ocon 9th, and Ricciardo, making it two McLarens in the top 10.

Sunday Race: The Deciding Race for the F1 2021 Driver’s Championship Title

It was the final race in F1 for both Alfa Romeo drivers and Honda as an engine manufacturer. Both the contenders lined up at the front to fight it out for the top prize. At the back end of the grid, Haas only fielded one car as Mazepin tested positive for Covid-19. 

Five red lights went off for the last time in 2021, and Lewis made a great start from P2 and was in the lead before going into turn 1. Verstappen tried to retake the lead into turn 6 but forced Hamilton off the track, who must cut the chicane and keep the lead. 

Stewards decided no investigation was necessary as Verstappen didn't leave any choice for Hamilton apart from going wide and cutting the corner.

After that, Max had no answer to the pace of Lewis Hamilton and decided to pit on lap 13 after his soft tyres started to lose grip. Max switched to hard tyres and came out in P5. Lewis pitted the next lap and came out in P2 behind Perez. 

Verstappen was back into P3 after overtaking Sainz on lap 18. At the front, Red Bull instructed Perez to hold Lewis for as long as he could. Perez did a fantastic job until lap 22 and helped Verstappen erase the 5-second gap he had to Hamilton. Perez pitted and came out in P3.

Verstappen pitted again, and on lap 38, with the VSC removed, he had a 12-second gap to Hamilton and a pace advantage of eight tenths. By lap 51, he was 11 seconds behind Hamilton and had a marginal pace advantage. At that stage, it looked like game over for Verstappen. Latifi crashed on lap 53, and a title-deciding safety car was deployed. 

On lap 56, the safety car was still out, and Perez was retired from the race to prevent further delay. Verstappen had already pitted to change to fresh soft tyres. 

On lap 57, a controversial decision was made when only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were allowed to unlap while the rest stayed where they were. This is where the racing gods came into play. Verstappen, on fresh tyres, overtook Hamilton on lap 58 and disappeared to take the chequered flag. 

Lewis had no chance to defend on nearly 30-lap-old tyres. Verstappen won the race ahead of Hamilton and Sainz, and Mercedes was crowned the constructors' champion. Mercedes did protest the race decision, but the stewards rejected the protest.

Yuki Tsunoda finished a brilliant P4 with a career-best finish ahead of Gasly and Bottas, while Norris finished 7th ahead of Alonso, Ocon and Leclerc. Ferrari beat McLaren to the P3 in the constructor’s championship. Alpine finished 5th ahead of Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin, Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Haas.

F1 2022 Season

Looking forward to a start of a new era in Formula 1 that will welcome a new generation of cars with ground effects and minimum aerodynamics parts. The sport will shift to 18'' wheels from next season along with a host of technical regulations. 

After the F1 Abu Dhabi results, it remains to be seen if Lewis Hamilton will return to racing or retire from the sport. Let’s watch what happens to the F1 world next year!