Max Verstappen had a fairy-tale ending to the F1 season

Max Verstappen (above) has won it all in the strangest of circumstances.

Max Verstappen (above) has won it all in the strangest of circumstances.
Photo: Getty Images

It’s the kind of ending to any contest that looks scripted (and Mercedes could still claim it was actually scripted). It’s the thing you would rebuild in your living room when you were a kid. So, it’s not just the last AB at the bottom of the ninth. It’s the end of the ninth game of Game 7 after returning from a 5-0 downside in Game 4 to kick off a 3-0 comeback down in the series (rather, Red Sox fans). In the confines of your imagination, anything is possible.

But in the real world, we never see this kind of thing. There are 7 games. The strange comeback of 3-0. OT in the decisive games. Miraculous finishes. But really, how many homers do you remember ending a series? Joe Carter? Or overtime goals or siren hitters who win a championship in Game 7 or the Super Bowl? Vince Young? Boise State did not win a championship at the Fiesta Bowl. Kawhi Leonard was only in the second round. Jordan’s iconic sweater also left time on the clock. And that felt like an unreal ending, an intervention by a higher power to deliver something iconic.

The Formula 1 season had that finale at the last race of the season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, albeit under controversial and strange circumstances that may take some time to resolve. Of course, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are so far ahead of the competition, and their Mercedes and Red Bull teams along with them, that the world championship coming to the last race is not that unlikely. They have always been the two big favorites, despite not having enough advantage to part with each other for so long for so long.

However, getting down to the last race doesn’t happen every year. He required Hamilton to win the last three races, when nothing less would have done. Mercedes was needed turning off the engine a month ago and the resulting penalties. And the prelude continued to grow in Abu Dhabi yesterday, qualifying number 1 (Verstappen) and number 2 (Hamilton) for the race.

And with these two grappling with each other all season, we didn’t have to wait long for more controversy between them. It wasn’t even a ride. As soon as the lights went out, Hamilton overtook Verstappen. At Turn 6, Verstappen attempted to regain the lead, forcing Hamilton off the track. At least that’s what Hamilton and Mercedes would tell you. Hamilton therefore basically cut the corner to stay ahead of Verstappen.

This has happened a couple of times between the two, but this time the race officials did not force Hamilton to give up the seat. He seemed curious. Red Bull and Verstappen would have a different word for it.

And for the rest of the race, practically all but the last lap, Hamilton dominated the race. His lead increased to 16 seconds. Red Bull and Verstappen changed course and stopped for the second time with around 18 laps to go, hoping to be able to consume Hamilton’s lead lap after lap as Hamilton’s tires wore out. But they couldn’t make up enough time

And then … well, Verstappen might call it divine intervention, or even karma from the first round incident. Hamilton might call it the cruelty of the gods. It was the only thing that could have made the race competitive. It was Nicholas Latifi, miles away from the leaders, crashing into the wall. This led to the exit of a safety car which stopped the race essentially for a few laps. But it wasn’t that simple either.

Verstappen pitted again to get even fresher tires, which Hamilton was unable to do because he had taken the safety car. Even if he did, he would come out behind Verstappen. Or Verstappen would not have pitted at all. Or Mercedes calculated that the race would end under the yellow flags. So many things could have, or should have, or would have happened that it is impossible to have control.

But that wasn’t it. As the end of the safety car approached, it looked like the cars Hamilton had lapped, but Verstappen had not yet been allowed to pass Hamilton and the safety car when the race restarted. It is usually the custom, so as not to give anyone an advantage. The broadcast was emphasizing how unusual it was for them not to be allowed to pass. Both Verstappen and Red Bull boss Christian Horner were furious about their radios, with Horner going wild on the officers. Even on fresh tires, having five cars to overtake in one lap before even catching up with Hamilton would have been too much.

And then, suddenly, the lapped cars were overtaking Hamilton and the safety car. And the safety car was pitting, not completing another lap after the lapped cars pulled away, which is the normal way. The normal way would have meant the end of the race under the yellow flags. But instead, the restart was thrown on Hamilton. Verstappen had nestled just behind Hamilton before the restart. And it was Mercedes screaming into their radios. The broadcast was left speechless.

A turn to decide everything.

Except it was already decided. Verstappen with freshly touched tires had a huge advantage over Hamilton, running on tires that already had more than 30 laps in them. Verstappen was barely overtaking Hamilton on the last lap. Hamilton took a stab but failed to pass. And then it was over. Max Verstappen, world champion.

This may not be over. While Mercedes’ initial protest was dismissed, they said they will appeal. You can imagine this coming to court before all is said and done.

It is difficult to understand everything that went into making this ending. The most decorated driver in the history of the sport has finally been looked in the eye by a young driver who has been aiming for greatness ever since he showed up. Two teams so superlative that no one else can touch them. The twists and turns of the F1 season, with an accident here and there or a strange decision by the FAI that keeps them at a distance from each other. Hamilton wins three races in a row to equalize with one race to go. Latifi crashes at that moment to clear the gap. A lap later and the race ends cautiously and Hamilton has his fifth consecutive world championship. The decisions to pierce or not to pierce.

Sometimes your childhood living room comes to life.

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