Formula 1 2021: Season Review
As someone who has watched Formula 1 since 2005, the 2021 season was simply the best I have ever seen.
At 22 Grand Prix, it was the longest yet, starting in Bahrain in March, before the travelling circus circumnavigated three other continents and 21 races, ending the season in Abu Dhabi on December 12.
It might be almost two weeks since the season finished, but I for one still have not recovered but I thought it was time I went through each race to provide my honest views about one of the classic F1 seasons.
Bahrain — 28 March 2021
The first race of a brand new F1 season is always exciting, but in 2021 it was simply awesome.
After a shaky pre-season test, there were question marks over how well Mercedes-Benz and seven-time defending champion Lewis Hamilton would get on.
Then following a great lap from Max Verstappen in qualifying, the intrigue grew. Come race day, Mercedes and Hamilton were able to perform an undercut strategy on Red Bull and Verstappen and after he was forced to give back the place to Hamilton after he overtook outside the track, the Dutchman could not pass the defending world champion.
McLaren and Ferrari were close in the first race with Lando Norris finishing fourth ahead of Sergio Perez who had to fight his way back from last place after his car shut down on the formation lap. Charles Leclerc was sixth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz.
Yuki Tsunoda made quite the impression on his debut for Alpha Tauri, climbing up from thirteenth to finish ninth, including a late-braking move on world champion Fernando Alonso.
1 HAM 25; 2 VES 18; 3 BOT 16
Emilia Romagna — 18 April
For me, it is still one of the iconic shots of the season. After a great qually lap from Hamilton, Verstappen made a great start in wet conditions from third on the grid and got a wonderful slingshot to not only pass team-mate Sergio Perez but to barge his way past the Mercedes driver into turn one.
From there, the race for Max was pretty simple. He was able to keep it on the island throughout and won his first race of the season comfortably.
As for Hamilton, he was pushing really hard to keep pace with Verstappen and while trying to lap George Russell in the Williams, he slid off the circuit and into the gravel trap.
Hamilton was stuck in that gravel trap for over a lap, but he was able to reverse out of it and rejoined the race out of the points and a lap down.
But the following lap, his future team-mate Russell and current team-mate Bottas collided down the back straight which brought out the red flag.
This was sensational luck for Hamilton as he could resume the race from ninth and managed to finish second with fellow Brit Norris beating the Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Sainz to third.
1 HAM 44; 2 VES 43; 3 NOR 27
Portugal — 2 May
After last year, it was expected to be a safe Mercedes track and so it turned out to be.
Bottas surprised the grid and munched to pole position, but after Kimi Raikkonen made contact with his team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi at the end of the opening lap, the safety car was deployed.
Despite the fact Verstappen passed Hamilton on the restart, it never looked like the Dutchman would beat him and after a simple move by Hamilton, he cruised past Bottas and took an easy win. Verstappen passed Bottas later in the race with the Finn finishing P3.
1 HAM 69; 2 VES 61; 3 NOR 37
Spain — 9 May
In almost a read, repeat of Portugal. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was another great weekend for Mercedes-Benz.
Verstappen and Red Bull threw the kitchen sink at Mercedes to get one up over them in their own back yard, but it was not to be.
Despite a forceful start from the Dutchman, Hamilton and Mercedes knew they had the quicker package and could run rings around them on strategy. So on lap 59, Hamilton passed Verstappen using his fresher tires to take the lead and booked himself another Grand Prix win.
This marked the high-point of the season for Mercedes and they would not rediscover this form until the last four races of the season.
1 HAM 94; 2 VES 80; 3 BOT 47
Monaco — 23 May
The principality of Monaco is the one that everyone wants to win, set by the French riviera and after a year without the fabled streets due to COVID, the entire F1 paddock treasured them ever more in 2021.
After the first four races, it looked like it would be a battle between Red Bull and Mercedes once again. But during qualifying, the Scarlet Ferrari who grew up next to the circuit was quickest after the first runs in Q3. The pressure was on for Charles Leclerc to put a better time on the board when he crashed at the entry to the swimming pool and the rear of his car thumped into the barriers on the exit. That brought out a red flag and meant the Monegasque claimed pole position ahead of Verstappen and Bottas while Hamilton languished down in P7.
But it did not look good and it was suspected that Leclerc would have to change his gearbox. But Ferrari confirmed that they checked over the car and all would be well. But as Leclerc took to the grid, it was not and the Monegasque failed to start the race to the devastation of his fans.
The race was a straightforward and uneventful affair as is usually the case in Monaco as Verstappen led from pole to victory. Carlos Sainz finished second for Ferrari after Bottas retired in the pitlane after his wheel nut was jammed on. Norris finished third while Hamilton could only manage seventh.
1 VES 105; 2 HAM 101; 3 NOR 56
Azerbaijan GP — 6 June
A relatively undramatic race until it became so. Charles Leclerc took another brilliant pole position for Ferrari ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen.
But unlike on the streets of Monaco, there was no way the Ferrari man could hold off Hamilton and Verstappen respectively.
With the fastest package in race trim, Verstappen and Perez were running first and second after the first stint and the race looked it would result in a nice points’ haul for Red Bull.
But after Lance Stroll’s tire blowout on lap 30, Verstappen suffered the same fate on lap 44. What followed was several laps behind the safety car before a red flag to repair the barrier and a two-lap shootout to the chequered flag.
With Verstappen out, this was a huge open goal for Hamilton and before heading out to take his P2 starting place on the grid, he vowed not to take any risks.
Despite this, he made a monumental error and after seeming to get the better start over Perez, he locked up and went straight on which dropped him down to last place.
So instead, Perez took his only win of the season ahead of Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin with Pierre Gasly third.
Fernando Alonso also had a great two laps after the restart, elevating himself up to sixth place in what was the first sign that the old matador had lost none of his speed…
1 VES 105; 2 HAM 101; 3 PER 69
France — 20 June
This was the season-defining race of the entire season for me as it showed that Red Bull Racing could take the fight to Mercedes on a track where the silver arrows had been so dominant in the past.
Verstappen took pole position by almost three-tenths of a second over Hamilton to the surprise of the F1 paddock.
In the race, a small error into turn one from Verstappen was amended as Red Bull went on the attack, and just as Mercedes had outwitted Red Bull in Barcelona, the Milton Keynes-based squad repaid the favour by doing an aggressive two-stop strategy.
Verstappen caught and passed the defending world champion on the penultimate lap to seal a momentum-building victory for the team.
Hamilton finished second and Perez made the best of his strategy to finish third, beating the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas on pure pace for the first time this season.
Elsewhere, it was a disastrous day for Ferrari as both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc fell like a stone after out-qualifying both McLarens the previous day, finishing 11th and 16th with tire wear issues.
Norris and Ricciardo made the most of this to bag very useful points in fifth and sixth while Alonso was back in the points at Alpine’s home race.
1 VER 131; 2 HAM 119; 3 PER 84
Styria — 27 June
The first of two races at the Red Bull Ring allowed Verstappen and Red Bull to continue their impressive form.
Once again, Verstappen took pole by almost two-tenths of a second over Bottas with Hamilton third.
Hamilton would line up second to Verstappen after Bottas was awarded a three-place penalty for a gymkhana-style drift in the pit lane during free practice.
This would set up a straight fight between Verstappen and Hamilton, but try as he might, Hamilton was no match for the young Dutchman.
Behind, Bottas recovered to third after he managed to undercut Perez at the pit stops and just managed to hold the Mexican at bay.
But Leclerc provided the most action as the Monegasque rose from the back of the field to seventh place as Ferrari seemed to be in a lot better shape than they were at Paul Ricard.
1 VER 156; 2 HAM 138; 3 PER 96
Austria — 4 July
If the Styrian Grand Prix was a good weekend for Max Verstappen, the Austrian GP was even better.
His first grand slam with pole, race victory and the fastest lap and he was 17-seconds clear of the field by the finish.
The race started with Verstappen leading Norris as the McLaren driver took his maiden front row start in F1.
At the start, Alpine racer Esteban Ocon made contact with the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, breaking his front suspension. Ocon retired but Giovinazzi was able to carry on after taking on repairs.
On the restart, Norris made contact with the second Red Bull of Perez as he was judged to have pushed him off the circuit. Norris was awarded a five-second penalty and it completely ruined Perez’s afternoon.
This allowed the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Bottas to move into second and third until the Briton picked up some damage in the second stint and so dropped to fourth, behind Bottas and Norris.
Elsewhere, the action was focused on Perez’s battle with the Ferraris and Daniel Ricciardo as the Mexican could not clear them until the end of the race. He was awarded a 10-second time penalty for forcing Leclerc off the track twice.
There was heartbreak for George Russell as the Williams driver lost out on an opportunity to score his first points for the team as he was passed by Alonso in the closing stages.
1 VER 182; 2 HAM 150; 3 PER 104
Britain — 18 July
The British GP at Silverstone is always a great sporting occasion, but with a great title fight and the location for F1’s first-ever sprint race, it was eagerly anticipated.
Traditional qualifying on Friday afternoon was a great hit and after Red Bull had the edge in the previous five races, Hamilton was quickest by less than a tenth over Verstappen.
Come Saturday, there was huge interest as to how the sprint would play out.
Verstappen got a better start than Hamilton and from there cleared off ahead of the two Mercedes drivers and Leclerc held steady in fourth.
But there was magic behind as Alonso rocketed from eleventh to fifth on the opening lap. He fell behind the two McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo but wound up seventh.
Contact between Russell and Sainz on the opening lap resulted in a three-place penalty for the Briton.
It was another bad qually for Perez as he lost control of his Red Bull down the hangar straight before retiring his car, so would start the Grand Prix last.
The race would be remembered for one thing and one thing alone that left a sour taste in the mouth of the F1 fan.
After Verstappen was able to maintain the lead from pole position, he ran side-by-side through the opening turns with home hero Hamilton. The Dutchman was ahead exiting Woodcote, but the Mercedes driver got a better run and dived down the inside of Corpse corner, but Verstappen did not back out and Hamilton crashed into him at approximately 180 mph. The force of the impact sent Verstappen into the tire barrier and he had to be checked over by medics at Coventry Hospital.
The resultant red flag allowed Mercedes to repair Hamilton’s car and despite a 10-second time penalty for the Briton, he was still able to beat Leclerc’s Ferrari to win the race.
It was a solid day for McLaren who finished fourth and fifth with Ricciardo just managing to hold off Sainz in the closing laps of the race.
Perez made a third pit stop while running in seventh to deny Hamilton the bonus point for fastest lap.
1 VER 185; 2 HAM 177; 3 NOR 113
Hungary — 1 August
After the race at Silverstone, Hungary was no less eventful and quite possibly the best race of the season.
Qualifying saw Mercedes beat Red Bull on outright speed for the first time since Spain as Hamilton led a Mercedes 1–2 lockout on the front row of the grid.
But come race day, Bottas made a terrible start from second and he found that he could not slow down into the first corner. This meant that the Finn hit Norris in the McLaren who cascaded into the side of Verstappen. Bottas also took out the other Red Bull of Perez.
Stroll also made contact with Leclerc at turn one who forced Ricciardo to spin.
Through the chaos, Stroll, Leclerc, Perez, Bottas and Norris all retired from the race.
After the red flag, the track had dried up, so at the restart, all remaining cars except race leader Hamilton boxed for slick tires with Hamilton the only car to line up on the grid on inters.
But it was clear that the dry tires were the ones to be on which made Esteban Ocon in the Alpine the de facto race leader over Vettel.
Clearly the fastest driver on the track, Hamilton was on a charge, and from the back of the field, he soon found himself in fourth place. At that point, he looked best-placed for victory as Verstappen had to race with a severely damaged car and tried to make the best out of another bad situation.
Then on lap 48, Hamilton pitted for a fresh set of tires and emerged behind the maestro himself, Fernando Alonso.
With Fernando’s team-mate Ocon in the lead of the race, he knew that every lap he could keep Hamilton at bay would be crucial. The Spaniard did his best and kept him back for 12 laps until he locked up at turn one, clearing the path for Lewis.
From there, Hamilton made his way past Sainz and caught up to the back of Vettel but ran out of time to attack the top two.
This meant Ocon claimed his first F1 win in a true epic over Hamilton who inherited second after Vettel was disqualified with Sainz picking up another podium.
It was also a special race for Williams as Nicholas Latifi and George Russell finished seventh and eighth to claim the first points for the team since Germany 2019.
1 HAM 195; 2 VER 187; 3 NOR 113
Belgium — 29 August
The race that never was… The 2021 Belgian GP was perfectly set up for another classic wet weather race, but unfortunately, the rain was too much so after two laps behind the safety car, the race was called and half points were awarded.
This meant qualifying was crucial and Verstappen’s pole position in front of the Belgian fans was crucial with Russell in the Williams splitting the two title contenders which meant that he got to taste the champagne before he heads off to Mercedes next year.
Qualifying was mired somewhat by a big crash by Norris at the top of the hill at Radillon which saw him lose the car in a straight line. This could partly explain the caution taken by race director Michael Masi the following day.
A crash for Perez on the formation lap caused much amusement on social media and proved costly as Red Bull lost points in their fight with Mercedes.
1 HAM 202.5; 2 VER 199.5; 3 NOR 113
Netherlands — 5 September
For the first time since 1985, a Formula 1 race was held at Circuit Zandvoort in the Netherlands. There was much build-up and eager anticipation going into the weekend with all eyes on erstwhile points leader Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman did not put a wheel wrong all weekend with pole and victory despite intense pressure from the two Mercedes.
Mercedes tried to put Verstappen under pressure by bringing Hamilton in early and leaving Bottas out to act as a roadblock, but Verstappen dealt with it all to win his 17th and possibly his most gratifying Grand Prix.
The most action came from Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez as the Mexican made his way from last up to eighth position after a change of power unit.
Gasly shone for Alpha Tauri as the Frenchman showed great pace in qualifying and the race to beat both Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz.
Alonso showed his agility with a great start and consistent pace to finish sixth while Antonio Giovinazzi suffered a lap one puncture which put pay to his seventh-place qualifying effort.
1 VER 224.5; 2 HAM 221.5; 3 BOT 123
Italy — 12 September
The second F1 sprint race took place in the country park at Monza, the cathedral of speed.
It was another exciting Friday-Saturday with Bottas coming out on top in both sessions. But as the Finn had taken a new power unit, he would start the race from the back of the grid.
All eyes were on the championship contenders to see if Hamilton could take advantage of Mercedes turn of speed at Monza, but after being beaten by his teammate on Friday, the Briton was beaten into the first chicane by Verstappen and the two McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris with Gasly challenging.
Luckily for Hamilton, Gasly damaged his suspension and was taken out of the sprint which he finished fifth.
Come race day, it was Verstappen who had the bad start from pole position which let Ricciardo into the lead, but after defending against Hamilton into the second, Max was holding strong in P2.
But at the end of the first stint, Red Bull stayed out one lap longer than Ricciardo, but the undercut failed badly as the Dutchman was held for an agonising 11 seconds.
Hamilton came in three laps later and was held for four seconds which put both title contenders on the same piece of tarmac which culminated in a turn one crash that took both title contenders out of the race.
The incident brought out the safety car to clear up their mess and allowed Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc to get a cheap pitstop as he emerged in second place.
But with an inherent lack of straight-line speed, it was a losing battle for the Monegasque driver as he was passed at the restart by Lando Norris followed by moves by Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas from the back of the grid.
At the chequered flag, Ricciardo won his first race since Monaco 2018 ahead of Norris as the team claimed the first and only 1–2 for a team in 2021.
Bottas was classified third as Perez was given a penalty when passing Leclerc.
1 VER 226.5; 2 HAM 221.5; 3 BOT 141
Russia — 26 September
This was a real purple patch for McLaren as off the back of their 1–2 in Monza, Norris took his maiden pole position in Sochi as he mastered the damp conditions in qualifying.
The McLaren man surprised the field as he led his former team-mate Sainz and fellow countryman Russell while defending champion Hamilton crashed into the pit lane in a crucial session that saw his main title rival Verstappen sidelined due to an engine penalty.
The race was an unpredictable affair with Sainz leading the opening dozen laps before Norris recaptured the lead after the Ferrari man ran out of rubber.
Meanwhile, Alonso had an exuberant start as the Spaniard made full use of the runoff area to move ahead of Hamilton and Ricciardo. The Spaniard soon lost those places but it was a further demonstration by Fernando that track limits rules are a bit ridiculous.
Verstappen and Ferrari racer Leclerc were making their way up the order, epitomised by the Dutchman making quick work of Bottas in the Mercedes who had been sacrificed to halt Verstappen’s progress.
In the second half of the race, Norris was holding down first place ahead of Hamilton while Verstappen’s early pace had been halted and was running seventh with less than a dozen laps to go.
But the winds quite literally changed as the rain began to fall within touching distance of the chequered flag.
On lap 49, drivers began to pit for intermediates including Verstappen and Sainz with Hamilton pitting on the following lap.
On lap 50, it was clear that the inter was the tire to be on and Norris aquaplaned into the wall at turn five on the next lap.
This meant Hamilton won his 100th Grand Prix ahead of title rival Verstappen with Sainz claiming a well-earned podium in third.
1 HAM 246.5; 2 VER 244.5; 3 BOT 151
Turkey — 10 October
After a story of low-grip in 2020, the authorities had cleaned the track up ready for 2021.
It certainly helped and the drivers enjoyed the high-speed nature of Istanbul Park.
Qualifying was a dominant performance by Mercedes as Hamilton set the fastest time over team-mate Bottas, but as the Briton was forced to take a new power unit, it would be the Finn who would start the race on pole.
The race was a damp affair with conditions set to remain stable throughout.
Bottas maintained first place at the start and was soon well clear of the chasing Red Bull of Verstappen.
Perez gained two places up to fifth after a first-lap collision between Gasly and Alonso saw the Spaniard looped around and resulted in a penalty for the Frenchman.
Alonso then came a cropper when passing the Haas of Mick Schumacher as the Spaniard T-boned the young German for which he was rightly given a 10-second time penalty.
From 11th position, Hamilton was making solid progress through the order and soon found himself in fifth place.
Akin to last year, the decision of whether to pit or not was a marginal one and after Bottas, Verstappen and Perez chose to do so, it appeared that Leclerc and Hamilton would stay out until the end.
But after Bottas caught and passed the Ferrari, Leclerc boxed and wound up fourth at the chequered flag.
Hamilton meanwhile ignored his team’s initial call to pit before later doing so which meant he finished fifth instead of third.
It was a fine race from Sainz who went from nineteenth to eighth in another impressive back of the grid run through the order from the Spaniard.
1 VER 262.5; 2 HAM 256.5; 3 BOT 177
United States — 24 October
Apart from Abu Dhabi, in hindsight, this was quite possibly the most pivotal race of the season.
Coming into the weekend, it looked like Mercedes had found a breakthrough in performance and after first practice, they were half-a-second clear of Red Bull.
But that did not reflect reality when it really mattered.
Verstappen took pole by two-tenths of a second despite the damp end to Q3 over Hamilton as Perez beat Bottas to third who was given yet another internal combustion unit so would start ninth.
The race at the front was intoxicating as Hamilton snatched the lead from Verstappen. But the Red Bull on the medium tires looked the more comfortably, so went incredibly early on a two-stop strategy.
Mercedes did the opposite and went long, but were not given the breathing room to go really long as Perez was sitting comfortably in third.
In the end, Verstappen held on to beat Hamilton who was on the charge but ran out of laps to beat the Dutchman.
Leclerc finished a lonely fourth with a fine drive for Ferrari in the first race where they ran their updated power unit.
1 VER 287.5; 2 HAM 275.5; 3 BOT 185
Mexico — 7 November
Mexico was a weekend of two halves as qualifying was a shock to the system as Mercedes locked out the front row at a track which on paper suited the Red Bull.
But it actually worked to Verstappen’s advantage as the Dutchman went right around the outside of both Mercedes’ drivers into turn one.
Poleman Bottas was spun by McLaren racer Ricciardo which saw Verstappen lead ahead of Hamilton and Perez after the first few corners.
From there, the race at the front did not change as Verstappen was gone, finishing 16.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton who hung on for second.
But it was a magical day for Mexico as Perez took a maiden home Grand Prix podium.
1 VER 312.5; 2 HAM 293.5; 3 BOT 185
Brazil — 14 November
The traditional season finale saw one of the most dramatic F1 weekend’s I have ever seen.
Coming into the weekend, we knew that Hamilton would have to take a 5-place penalty for a new internal combustion unit, and so, discussion started to turn to a potential Verstappen win which would guarantee him the title if he finished second in the final three races.
Then after Friday qualifying, poleman for the sprint race, Hamilton was disqualified for the session as he failed the rear wing slot gap test and was ordered to the back of the grid.
From last place, Hamilton climbed up to fifth so would start tenth with a five-place penalty, the best qually performance of the season by far.
Bottas did his job for Mercedes by taking pole position over Verstappen with Sainz beating Perez to third on the grid.
In the race, Hamilton and Mercedes showed the immense speed of the new engine and after making his way from tenth to third within the first few laps of the race, an early safety car was well-timed for Hamilton.
So despite the best efforts of first Perez and then Verstappen, Hamilton took the lead on lap 59 to secure a monumental victory and revitalize a title that looked all but lost on Friday evening.
1 VER 332.5; 2 HAM 318.5; 3 BOT 203
Qatar — 21 November
The second new venue in 2021, Losail was drafted in as a last-minute replacement to the Australian GP.
The moto GP track provided an interesting layout for F1 cars with straight-line speed being most important.
It was a case of picking up where he left the last race for Hamilton as an easy pole was followed by an easy win.
Despite ignoring double-waved yellows in qually, Verstappen soon found himself second but did not have the pace to chase down Hamilton for first.
So with the top two sewn up, attention surrounded the final spot on the podium and at just over the halfway mark in the race, Bottas gave us an indication of what was to come as the Mercedes driver suffered a monumental puncture which ruined his race.
Punctures for Nicholas Latifi, George Russell and Lando Norris followed.
This created the background for an unusual two-stop strategy for Perez, as after the Mexican recovered from 11th to 3rd, he was dropped back in traffic to chase down Alonso in the Alpine.
But at the flag, the Spaniard held on to claim his first top-three finish since the 2014 Hungarian GP.
1 VER 351.5; 2 HAM 343.5; 3 BOT 203
Saudi Arabia — 5 December
A race like no other which in this case was not necessarily a good thing.
The Jeddah Street Circuit was a track like no other as it has the second-highest average speed of any venue on the calendar to Monza while surrounded by concrete walls millimetres from the drivers.
It was a track that would bite hard with Ferraris’ Charles Leclerc first to hit the barrier at turn 22 in second practice. The incident raised concerns about the safety of the circuit, but with Leclerc okay, the weekend proceeded.
Qualifying was all about keeping your head and after Mercedes seemed tipped for a front-row lockout in Saudi, Red Bull had the edge after the first runs of Q3.
But carrying more fuel, Hamilton and Bottas went quicker and quicker, managing three timed laps to go first and second.
Despite Mercs stealth approach, Verstappen looked to have pole position in his pocket as he was almost half a second up on Hamilton after the middle sector. But for the first time this season, the Dutchman crashed entirely of his own making at the final corner to deny himself pole position.
In the race, Hamilton led his teammate Bottas, with Verstappen holding strong in P3.
That was until lap 10 when Mick Schumacher crashed at the fearsome turn 22 which brought out the safety car.
Both Mercedes’ drivers pitted with Bottas slowing down Verstappen on his way to the box.
But the Dutchman stayed out and took the race lead as Bottas fell into traffic.
Soon after the red flag was called to allow more time for barrier repairs which meant that all drivers could change their tires if they wanted to and thus Verstappen had netted the lead of the race with both of the top two on the hard tires.
With standing restarts introduced for this year, all eyes looked to the front. With Hamilton on the warmer tires, the Brit got the better start. But determined to hold onto the lead, Max went all the way around the outside of Hamilton and off the circuit in his desperation to maintain P1. This allowed Ocon to overtake Hamilton for second.
Behind, something worse happened as Perez and Leclerc came to blows, spinning the Red Bull who spun in the middle of the road.
This forced Russell to slow down to a stop which meant that Mazepin, who took avoiding action against a dozy Hamilton on Friday, was unsighted and had no choice but to rear-end Russell’s Williams. Perez, Russell and Mazepin were all out on the spot which resulted in yet another red flag.
During the red flag, Verstappen was moved back to third behind the opportunistic Ocon and Hamilton. But with medium instead of hard tires on his Red Bull, Max aced the start and beat Ocon and Hamilton into turn one.
From there, Verstappen tried to build an early lead while Hamilton was navigating the Frenchman.
It did not take long and meant that once again, the top two in the championship were duking it out for victory.
Akin to previous races, it looked like Verstappen was doing enough until a VSC was deployed to clean up the debris on the track which meant that Verstappen was vulnerable to attack from Hamilton on lap 36.
Hamilton got the run and had gone around the outside, so Verstappen braked super late and could not stop the car so was forced to straight-line the chicane with Hamilton popping over the runoff area too.
That is where things got messy as Verstappen was told to give the position to Lewis which he tried to do on the back straight at which point they infamously touched.
Verstappen was awarded a five-second penalty for the turn one incident and a 10-second post-race penalty for the incident on the back straight.
Hamilton on the hard tires had more grip and so passed Verstappen anyway.
There was heartbreak at Alpine as Ocon missed out on a second podium of the year by less than a tenth of a second as he was passed on the line by Bottas for his last Mercedes podium.
Antonio Giovinazzi secured his best result of the season in ninth with his team-mate Raikkonen finishing fifteenth and last of the finishers.
1 VER 369.5; 2 HAM 369.5; 3 BOT 218
Abu Dhabi — 12 December
It all came down to one final hurrah in the desert. Verstappen v Hamilton; the challenger versus the king.
Coming into the weekend, Hamilton was the clear favourite as he had won three races on the spin since Brazil and Mercedes had the fastest car in both qualifying and race conditions.
The revised track in Abu Dhabi also seemed to suit Mercedes more so than Red Bull who, waking wounded, knew that something would have to go right for them to walk away with the title.
In qualifying, Verstappen upended that formbook and took pole position but would start the race on the less durable soft tires where Hamilton would line up from second on the mediums.
Verstappen got a howler of a start and Hamilton took the lead into turn one, but on the back straight into the turns 6/7 chicane, the Dutchman fought back and got himself alongside the Briton, stopped the car, and went around the chicane while Hamilton cut the corner. It was a more obvious example of corner-cutting than Verstappen displayed in Saudi, but went unpunished.
Head down, Verstappen did not have the pace on Mercedes so they went for the undercut which Mercedes duly covered one lap later.
Using Perez, Red Bull were able to get Verstappen within a second of Hamilton from a gap of seven seconds. But almost as soon as they had dispatched the Mexican, Hamilton was able to pull away again.
On lap 26, Raikkonen collided with the barriers at turn six which prompted his retirement in his final F1 race.
Then on lap 35 his teammate Giovinazzi joined him when he parked up with gearbox issues. This allowed Red Bull to try something different as Verstappen pitted for another set of hard tires to get a cheap stop in a bid to catch Hamilton.
While the first few laps produced good speed for the Dutchman, by lap 50, it was clear he was still too far back to launch an attack.
But on lap 53, Latifi crashed at turn 14 fighting the Haas of Schumacher which brought out the safety car.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Hamilton stayed out while Verstappen pitted for softs in a last gasp attempt to wrestle the title.
The controversy came around the timing of the decisions from Michael Masi, the race director.
While he should have let the lap cars through on lap 56, he waited until lap 57 to let the cars just between Hamilton and Verstappen through.
The net result was we got a last lap title showdown which saw Verstappen make a big lunge at turn five, and while suffering from cramp, he brought the car home to win the race and the world championship.
Despite the controversial circumstances in which he secured his maiden crown, I honestly do not think anyone can deny that he deserved the title: 10 wins, 10 poles, 18 podiums and 6 fastest laps.
What a season in which two great racers have slugged it out all season and F1 now has a brand new champion who is thoroughly deserving of his crown…