Ex-Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has accused Mercedes of looking like bad losers in the aftermath of the controversial ending to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that saw Lewis Hamilton pipped to the title by Max Verstappen.

An immense battle for the drivers' championship concluded in the most dramatic of circumstances on Sunday with Verstappen passing Hamilton on the final lap after the safety car had been deployed.

With the two neck-and-neck heading into the season finale, it looked as though Hamilton would retain his title having built up a healthy advantage over his rival.

However, there was a late twist when the Williams of Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barriers four laps from the end, with Verstappen pitting for fresh tyres as the wreckage was cleared in order to try to get a shot at Hamilton.

Such an opportunity presented itself when race director Michael Masi controversially ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car before it headed in to leave one last lap of racing between the contenders.

It was Verstappen who proved triumphant, with Mercedes left furious with Masi, who told Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

Amid Red Bull's celebrations, Mercedes lodged two complaints, claiming Verstappen had overtaken Hamilton before the safety car had pitted and opposing Masi's decision to allow the lapped cars to pass.

Ruling body the FIA dismissed both challenges, but Mercedes could yet appeal against the second of those.

Ecclestone said Mercedes ought to let the issue rest.

Speaking to Stats Perform, he said: "It's always been the same. The funny thing is the winners laugh and the losers have to make their own arrangements, and that's how it is. 

"It's no good being a bad loser. I'm sorry to say, the problem at the moment is Mercedes look a little bit like that, which is not what they are like and they shouldn't even make it look as if they are bad losers. 

"In the end what happened, if you really want to analyse it properly, you can say the world championship came down to one lap. It was the last lap of the race where two guys were on the track with nobody there. In fact, Lewis was a little bit lucky as he started that lap before Max, but in the mean, they were there racing each other, and Max came out in front. 

"Nobody should really, really complain. I don't know whether people did complain at the beginning where Lewis got a little bit of an advantage when he went past Max not on the track, and Max was actually on the track. I thought there was going to be some sort of a reprimand about that. 

"Nothing happened, which is okay. They should get rid of all the silly regulations in Formula One. 'Don't go over the white line, don't do this and don't do that', and when the lights go off, the guys are racing on their own, and they're racing."

Ecclestone added that he had no issue with the decision made by Masi.

"A couple of times this year I've thought that the race director was a bit stupid with one or two things he did, when he had plenty of time to think," he said.

"But in this case, I would have no complaints at all because he was there with a few seconds to make up his mind what to do and it took four hours of Mercedes' team with a lawyer to decide who was right and who was wrong. 

"It's difficult to say that the race director should take four hours to do the same thing. Even then, they haven't come back with the right decision, according to the stewards, so we'll have to wait and see. 

"You need a race director and you need one person to be in charge, and if the person isn't doing a good job over a period of six months or whatever, then get rid of him.

"But that's not the case in his case. He hasn't done a bad job throughout the year. He's made one or two which look like mistakes, but probably if you closely analyse them they probably wouldn't have been mistakes anyway."

The history books will remember Max Verstappen as the 2021 Formula One champion.

However, anyone lucky enough to take in an astonishing back-and-forth battle with Lewis Hamilton will surely never forget just how close Verstappen was run.

As the fallout from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continues, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind this thrilling title race and its epic finale.

FIGHTING TO THE LAST

With the title decided on December 12 – the final day of the season – this matched the latest ever triumph in a calendar year, 62 years to the day since Jack Brabham secured the championship at the United States GP.

Hamilton's late-season form prevented Verstappen from wrapping up victory prior to that point, instead entering the Abu Dhabi GP tied on 369.5 points.

Only once previously had the top two been level ahead of the final grand prix of a season, when Emerson Fittipaldi got the better of Clay Regazzoni in their 1974 showdown at Watkins Glen.

Fittipaldi, speaking to Stats Perform this week, said he had "never experienced so much pressure in my career" as they engaged in "a duel".

The Brazilian told of how Regazzoni tried to ram him off the track, and the possibility of Verstappen – ahead on races won – doing likewise was discussed ahead of the Abu Dhabi decider, so fine were the margins.

The standings still did not end up quite as tight as the 1984 record, which saw Niki Lauda champion by half a point ahead of Alain Prost, who won the decisive race in Portugal but crucially had his rival finish second.

However, this was the first occasion one contender had passed the other during the final lap of the season to take the title.

VERSTAPPEN EVENTUALLY VICTORIOUS

Although Verstappen was widely considered Hamilton's biggest rival in pre-season, he had never actually led the championship at the start of the year.

That changed at the Monaco Grand Prix, though, and the Dutchman – the first champion from his country, the 15th different nation to triumph – was just about able to finish off the job.

In fact, had Hamilton held on in Abu Dhabi, Verstappen would have maintained the record as the driver to have led the standings for the most raceweeks without having won a title (14). He had taken that rather unwanted honour from Carlos Reutemann after the Saudi Arabian GP but got his name on the trophy seven days later.

A 10th win of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit – to go with his 10th pole – boosted Verstappen's 2021 podium tally to 18, the most by any driver in a single year in F1 history.

Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel had each reached the steps on 17 occasions in one season, while Hamilton has done so in five different campaigns. Of course, with 22 grands prix, this was the longest season ever in F1.

HISTORIC HAMILTON WAITS ON EIGHT

The landmark Hamilton really wanted – an eighth championship to take him clear of Schumacher – evaded him, but this was another historic season for one of the sport's true greats.

While Verstappen might be on top of the world right now, he has a long, long way to go to match Hamilton's extraordinary longevity.

At the Spanish GP in May, Hamilton secured his 100th pole, the first man to that mark. He then completed a century of race wins at the Russian GP in September.

Schumacher (68 poles, 91 wins) is next behind Hamilton in both categories, with Vettel a distant second among active challengers (57 poles, 53 wins).

Hamilton matched a Schumacher achievement in 2021 by winning at least one grand prix in a 15th consecutive season, with that record surely set to fall in 2022.

The 2021 Formula One title race will be spoken about for years to come.

Max Verstappen took the championship after a quite remarkable Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory on Sunday, sensationally passing Lewis Hamilton on the final lap.

Stats Perform reflects on the key races in a sensational season.

EMILIA ROMAGNA GRAND PRIX (Apr 18)

A flying Hamilton start hinted at another year of dominance, as he won three of the first four grands prix. He also secured two poles in that run, reaching 100 for his career; at the time of his unprecedented century, the rest of the drivers on the grid had a combined 129 poles.

The first signs of a genuine title tussle came in raceweek two, when Hamilton started from pole but did not win. In the rain at Imola, the Mercedes man crashed just before a red flag for an incident involving current and future team-mates Valtteri Bottas and George Russell.

Although Hamilton recovered to finish second, he reflected on "the first time I've made a mistake in a long time" as Verstappen got off the mark.

AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX (Jun 6)

Verstappen responded to Hamilton's strong form with his own run of four wins in five races, although he also endured frustration in the one grand prix over that stretch that escaped his grasp.

The second real moment of genuine drama in this increasingly exciting battle saw Verstappen's tyre blow out as he was coasting to victory in Baku, even if team-mate Sergio Perez was the man to profit.

Red Bull found further consolation in Hamilton's result: a miserable P15. However, that pointless return was not necessarily a surprise to the defending champion, who had forecast problems after a seventh-placed finish at the previous street race in Monaco.

BRITISH GRAND PRIX (Jul 18)

This back-and-forth came to a head at Silverstone. Verstappen's first career sequence of three victories in a row had opened up a 32-point gap to Hamilton, while Mercedes were on their worst winless run (five races) of the hybrid era, but the first high-profile contact between the two contenders slowed the Dutchman's momentum.

Verstappen won the inaugural sprint race but did not last a lap of the main event, sent into the barriers by Hamilton's attempted overtake at Copse Corner.

While Hamilton went on to triumph and close to within eight points – despite a 10-second penalty – Red Bull team principal Christian Horner fumed at his "dirty driving", which he claimed cost the team £1.8million. Red Bull's appeal for a harsher punishment was rejected.

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Aug 29)

P2 in Hungary after Silverstone had given Hamilton a narrow lead heading into the mid-season break, but the resumption at Spa did not go at all as the Silver Arrows superstar would have planned.

Woeful conditions meant a delayed race started behind the safety car before being red-flagged after two laps and then called off, with enough of the grand prix completed to award half points – a decision described by third-placed Hamilton as "all a money scenario".

Verstappen had pipped Russell to pole and so was granted a precious victory in this season of fine margins.

ITALIAN GRAND PRIX (Sep 12)

Verstappen nudged ahead of Hamilton again prior to the Italian GP and protected that position in the race – albeit in unorthodox fashion.

Neither Verstappen nor Hamilton finished the grand prix after the Dutchman caught the kerb when looking to pass his rival and landed on top of the Mercedes, with the halo protecting its driver.

"I am so grateful I am still here," Hamilton said afterwards, with Verstappen handed a grid penalty for the next race. The Red Bull man still extended his advantage thanks to P2 in Monza's sprint race.

RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX (Sep 26) 

Events in Sochi summed up the unpredictable nature of this season, with momentum swinging to and fro throughout the weekend, kickstarted by Red Bull's call to change Verstappen's engine and have him line up at the back of the grid.

Hamilton started in fourth after a pit-lane crash in qualifying but put himself in position to steal victory when poleman Lando Norris span off three laps from the end in yet more treacherous conditions.

That meant a long-awaited 100th F1 triumph for Hamilton – in his 281st race – but secured only a marginal lead over Verstappen, who brilliantly battled back to P2.

SAO PAULO GRAND PRIX (Nov 14)

The tour of the Americas had put Verstappen firmly back in control prior to the final Brazil leg, having held off Hamilton at the last in the United States before easing to victory in Mexico. He looked on course for more joy in Sao Paulo, too.

Hamilton was already set to serve a five-place grid penalty when his qualifying time – the fastest on the grid – was struck off for a DRS infringement, meaning he had to start from 10th even after recovering from 20th to fifth in the sprint race, in which Verstappen claimed P2.

Sensationally, Hamilton roared back to win ahead of Verstappen, who escaped punishment for forcing his rival wide early in the race. These various factors counting against Hamilton "woke up the lion", Toto Wolff later claimed.

SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX (Dec 5)

With no room for error, Hamilton won again in Qatar and then continued his fine form in highly controversial circumstances in Saudi Arabia.

Hamilton started from pole after Verstappen's qualifying crash, but the spectacle was only just beginning; last Sunday saw two red flags and a succession of safety cars that meant Max could not escape Lewis after taking the lead.

Verstappen twice gave the position back to Hamilton's due to infringements, while he was further punished for an additional flashpoint that saw the Dutchman brake, triggering a collision. Hamilton dashed clear to send the title race into its final grand prix all square for only the second time ever.

ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX (Dec 12)

Even with the pair level on points heading into the deciding race, few could have imagined the championship would be settled in such dramatic fashion. Hamilton looked to be coasting to victory in the closing stages.

The Mercedes man had been ahead of pole-sitter Verstappen since passing him on the start, able to preserve that position despite Red Bull's claims of an illegal early move.

It was the Silver Arrows who were furious come the end of the race and the season, however. The race director allowed Verstappen to take on Hamilton at the last, snatching victory on the final lap of the campaign – this tying the latest date in the calendar a title has been settled.

Max Verstappen hailed his battle with Lewis Hamilton throughout the Formula One season for "pushing each other to the limit" after the Red Bull star clinched the title on Sunday.

Verstappen secured a maiden F1 world championship in controversial fashion as he overtook Hamilton on the final lap of a decisive last race of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton was moments away from claiming the championship for a record eighth time after building up a healthy lead over Verstappen heading into the closing stages.

However, the British driver's advantage was wiped out on the final straight as Verstappen raced past Hamilton after a safety car was deployed with four laps remaining following Nicholas Latifi's crash.

Mercedes immediately lodged two complaints about the bizarre end to the race at the Yas Marina Circuit, but the stewards rejected the proposals – a decision the German racing team intends to appeal against.

The finale was ultimately an almost fitting way to end a topsy-turvy battle between Hamilton and Verstappen throughout the season, and the Red Bull driver looked back on his season-long contest with the Briton fondly.

"Of course, in general, I think we have really enjoyed it," Verstappen told reporters when asked about the battle between the pair.

"We had our moments, but I think in a championship battle, that's part of it. And now that the season is over, I think we can relax a little bit more about it – but it's been tense. 

"The competition, almost every race we have been pushing each other to the limit, within our cars as well. And I think that is just really nice to see. 

"There have been quite some tough races, just physically also because you were just pushing like hard all the time, there was no lap to rest and throughout the whole weekend – qualifying, race – it was so important to always try and be perfect.

"[That is] very hard in Formula 1 to be perfect because there is always some[thing happening], a little tiny lock-up can make the difference between P1 and P2 and in the championship that we had, that was massive, so the level of focus required was very high."

Pressed for further comment on Hamilton, Verstappen spoke glowingly of his opponent as he also reflected on a momentous first win despite his team failing to win their respective championship.

"I have a lot of respect for Lewis but you know, I'm just very happy that I won in general because it's been a very tough season fighting against Mercedes and Lewis," he added.

 "I don't want to sound arrogant or whatever to say it's a great satisfaction to win against him and I just have a lot of respect for him, as a driver and I know he's an amazing driver in terms of what he has achieved but I'm just very happy that we won it.

"I think even when you talk to the [Red Bull] team, they really wanted me to win this championship, but over the whole season we were not the quickest. 

"So, then it's natural that you can't win the team championship. But we gave it our all you know, we can't be disappointed about anything because we really maximized a lot of our results. 

"Like I said, we gave it our all, and of course in the team championship we came up short but we won the Drivers."

Verstappen had hinted in the past that one world title would be enough to satisfy him for the rest of his career.

Having now achieved the feat, he concluded that any further success will simply be an additional bonus.

"No, of course, I will continue driving but of course, in terms of achievements, I have achieved everything in Formula 1 now so everything that comes next is just a bonus," he continued.

"People always doubt 'ah, you know with impact or whatever'. There was also criticism.

"But I think what, again, these moments teach you is that you have to keep believing in yourself and in your own beliefs, you know, and be a strong person about it, that's always worked very well for me."

Mercedes have lodged an intention to appeal against the stewards' decision to reject their protests over Max Verstappen's dramatic title-clinching Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory.

Verstappen claimed his maiden Formula One world title in the most dramatic fashion at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday after overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of a decisive last race of the season.

Hamilton was on the brink of being crowned champion for a record eighth time when he built a healthy lead until the safety car was deployed with four laps to go after Nicholas Latifi crashed.

Verstappen pitted to have fresh tyres fitted and had his last chance to win the race – and the championship – when race director Michael Masi ruled lapped cars in between the top two could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one final lap of racing.

The Dutchman passed a stunned Hamilton, with Masi explaining to furious Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

Mercedes launched a formal protest "against the classification established at the end of the competition" as Red Bull basked in the glory of their sensational triumph.

The Silver Arrows complained that Verstappen may have briefly edged in front of Hamilton, who had position as the lead car, behind the safety car and also protested over how rules were applied concerning when lapped cars can overtake under safety-car conditions.

While race stewards accepted Verstappen had "for a very short period of time" moved slightly ahead of Hamilton, they were satisfied that he dropped back behind the leader before the safety car period ended.

The second part of the appeal was also rejected by the stewards, but Mercedes will take the matter further.

A team statement said: "We have lodged notice of intention to appeal the decision of the stewards under Article 15 of the Sporting Code and Article 10 of the Judicial and Disciplinary Rule."

The stewards had declared that "once the message 'safety car in this lap' has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap" and "notwithstanding Mercedes' request that the stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate".

"Accordingly, the protest is dismissed," the stewards added.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull were celebrating after rivals Mercedes failed to overturn the result of an extraordinary final race of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen won the race and with it the championship on Sunday, passing title rival Lewis Hamilton on the last lap after a safety car deployment transformed the race.

Starting the race all square with Verstappen at the top of the standings, it seemed as though Hamilton would clinch a record eighth driver's title when he built up a healthy lead in the closing stages.

However, the British driver's advantage was wiped out when the safety car came out after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

Verstappen pitted to get fresh tyres for a potential shot at passing the Mercedes man, and he got that chance when race director Michael Masi ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one lap of racing between the contenders.

Verstappen beat Hamilton as Mercedes fumed, with Masi explaining to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

As Red Bull soaked up their sensational victory, Mercedes launched a formal protest "against the classification established at the end of the competition".

They complained that Verstappen may have briefly edged in front of Hamilton, who had position as the lead car, and also protested over how rules were applied concerning when lapped cars can overtake under safety-car conditions.

While race stewards accepted Verstappen had "for a very short period of time" moved slightly ahead of Hamilton, they were satisfied that he dropped back behind the leader before the safety car period ended.

The second part of the appeal was also rejected by the stewards, who announced that news in a statement.

The stewards declared that "once the message 'safety car in this lap' has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap" and "notwithstanding Mercedes' request that the stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate".

"Accordingly, the protest is dismissed," the stewards added.

It remained to be seen whether further steps would be taken by Mercedes.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, quoted by the BBC, said: "We are going to go and celebrate this championship now. Thank you very much."

Mercedes have had their first protest against the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix dismissed by race stewards.

Max Verstappen won the race and the championship in dramatic circumstances on Sunday, passing Lewis Hamilton on the final lap after the safety car had been deployed.

Having entered the race all square with Verstappen at the top of the standings, it seemed as though Hamilton would clinch a record eighth driver's title when he built up a healthy lead in the closing stages.

However, Hamilton's advantage was wiped out by the deployment of a safety car that was sent onto the track after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

Verstappen pitted to get fresh tyres for a potential shot at passing the Mercedes man, and he got that chance when race director Michael Masi belatedly ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one lap of racing between the contenders.

Verstappen beat Hamilton as Mercedes fumed, with Masi explaining to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

As Red Bull celebrated their sensational victory, Mercedes protested "against the classification established at the end of the competition".

Mercedes' protest alleged Verstappen had overtaken Hamilton before the safety car pitted and opposed the decision to allow the selection of lapped cars to pass.

While race stewards accepted Verstappen had "for a very short period of time" moved slightly ahead of Hamilton, they were satisfied that he dropped back behind the leader before the safety car period ended.

Red Bull had argued that Hamilton had never been overtaken, rather that both cars were "on and off the throttle" and that there were "a million precedents" where cars had moved alongside an opponent while under a safety car before dropping back.

No decision had yet been announced by the FIA – the sport's governing body – with regards to Mercedes' second protest.

The finale to the 2021 Formula One world championship was fitting entertainment at the end of an extraordinary season.

On the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton and crossed the line in first place to become world champion for the first time.

Hamilton had looked on course for a record eighth driver's title until the safety car came onto the track after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

It led to a thrilling but controversial finish – but should it have been done differently?

What happened?

Latifi hit the barriers on lap 54 and the safety car was deployed while the track was cleared.

Given Hamilton had been approximately 12 seconds clear in the lead at the time, Red Bull opted to pit Verstappen for fresh tyres in case a late dash for the chequered flag became a possibility. Hamilton stayed out, his team having warned that bringing him in for a tyre change would have given up track position to his title rival.

Discussions were then held between the respective team principals and race director Michael Masi over how the race would be concluded.

Red Bull's Christian Horner asked why cars that had already been lapped were not being allowed to pass the safety car once it was safe, which would have cleared the track between Verstappen and Hamilton and allowed for a last-lap race for the line.

Race Control, having initially declared that lapped cars would not be released, then gave the order for the five drivers keeping Verstappen from the back of Hamilton to pass the safety car.

This meant that, once the safety car left the track, racing could resume for one final lap – giving Verstappen, on far fresher tyres, the opportunity he needed to pass Hamilton and win the race, thereby clinching the title by just eight points.

Shortly after the race, Mercedes lodged an appeal against the result, citing alleged breaches of Article 48.8 and Article 48.12 of the rulebook: the first relates to overtaking under the safety car, while the second concerns the process of releasing lapped cars.

 

Why was it controversial?

The Formula One regulations for 2021 state: "If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message 'LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE' has been sent to all competitors via the official messaging system, any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.

"This will only apply to cars that were lapped at the time they crossed the line at the end of the lap during which they crossed the first safety car line for the second time after the safety car was deployed. Having overtaken the cars on the lead lap and the safety car these cars should then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and make every effort to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car. 

"Whilst they are overtaking, and in order to ensure this may be carried out safely, the cars on the lead lap must always stay on the racing line unless deviating from it is unavoidable. Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap."

The rules do not specify whether the race director may allow only some of the lapped cars to pass, and not all. This is why Michael Masi's decision to release only the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton, allowing for a final lap of racing between the title contenders, has caused such a debate.

 

What has been said?

Horner told Sky Sports: "We felt hard done by with the stewards at the beginning of the race, but they did great to get the race going again.

"We were screaming at him [Michael Masi]: 'Let them race'. That's what we've been talking about all year and this championship came down to the last lap. A great strategy call to make that pit stop, to take that set of softs, and then it was down to Max to make it happen.

"It's unheard of to leave the cars unlapped. You could see they wanted to get the race going again, and they don't need to catch up the back of the paddock. They made absolutely the right call - difficult circumstances, and they called it right."

George Russell, who will join Mercedes for the 2022 season, said on Twitter: "THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we've just seen."

Lando Norris, the McLaren driver who was one of those allowed to pass the safety car, said: "I'm not too sure what was said from the FIA. At first, we weren't allowed to overtake, as the backmarkers, so if that influenced decisions to Mercedes and to Lewis and that's the reason they didn't do their pit-stop...

"But then the FIA suddenly changed their minds and they were allowed to let us past. That's where I'm not so sure. For it to end like that, I'm not so sure."

Damon Hill, the world champion in 1996, said on Sky Sports: "This is like running a motor race in a way we've not been used to in the past. They've kept us guessing all the time as to which way a decision is going to go. One team who is not going to be complaining about what happened is Red Bull."

Nico Rosberg, who won the 2016 title, said: "First they said you're not allowed to unlap themselves, then they changed that message once they saw it was safe to do so.

"The thing is that in the document it says 'all cars will be required to unlap themselves' and yet they only let those five cars that were between Lewis and Verstappen unlap themselves. That's where Mercedes are asking if it's okay or not. But I guess in the end Michael Masi can decide what he wants, he's the race director."

Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, said: "It definitely went Max's way only letting those five cars past but earlier in the race it sort of went Lewis' way. Michael Masi wants to get them racing, he doesn't want to decide the world championship."

Mercedes launched an official protest after Max Verstappen controversially beat Lewis Hamilton to the Formula One title on the final lap of the season.

Hamilton had reeled in Verstappen in the closing weeks of the campaign and led his rival for much of Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Having entered the race all square at the top of the standings, the victor of a battle between Hamilton and Verstappen would decide the championship.

Hamilton's advantage was wiped out by a safety car, under which Verstappen pitted to get fresh tyres for a potential shot at passing the Mercedes man.

He got that chance when race director Michael Masi belatedly ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one lap of racing between the contenders.

Verstappen beat Hamilton as Mercedes fumed, with Masi explaining to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

As Red Bull celebrated their sensational victory, Mercedes protested "against the classification established at the end of the competition".

The protest focuses on articles 48.8 and 48.12 in the sporting regulations of governing body the FIA, each of which relate to the safety car.

Article 48.8 instructs that cars cannot overtake behind a safety car, with footage suggesting Verstappen may have briefly edged in front of Hamilton, who had position as the lead car.

Article 48.12 relates to when lapped cars can overtake under the safety car.

Max Verstappen admitted it was an "unbelievable" and "incredible" feeling after snatching his first Formula One world championship in the most dramatic fashion at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Verstappen entered the final race of a gripping season level on points with Lewis Hamilton, who was seeking a record-breaking eighth drivers' title.

The Red Bull star found it a struggle to match Hamilton, who was in charge of much of the title decider.

However, his team's decision to pit and opt for fresh tyres late in the race while Hamilton did not – as well as the necessary intervention of a safety car with four laps remaining – proved decisive.

Verstappen subsequently passed the defending champion at Turn 5 on the final lap – much to the dismay of an incensed Mercedes team – and became Red Bull's second world champion, after Sebastian Vettel.

"It's unbelievable," Verstappen said. "Throughout the whole race, I kept fighting, then there was the opportunity in the last lap. It's incredible.

"I don't know what to say. My team and Honda deserve it. Finally, a bit of luck for me!

"My team know I love them; I hope we can do this for 10, 15 years together. I don't want to change ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life, if they will have me.

"I'm so happy. Our goal was to win this championship when we came together and now we have done that."

Verstappen added: "My goal when I was little was to become an F1 driver. You hope for wins, you hope to be on the podium, when they play the national anthem, you one day hope they'll play yours.

"Now, standing here and they tell you you're the world champion is something incredible."

Verstappen also paid tribute to rival Hamilton, whose wait for that eighth world title goes on.

"Lewis is an amazing driver, an amazing competitor," Verstappen said.

"They made it really, really hard for us. The two teams went against each other and we had some tough times, but that's part of sport and the emotion, everyone wants to win.

"It could have gone either way today and next year, we'll come back and try it all over again."

Lewis Hamilton spoke of his pride in his Mercedes team after they "gave it absolutely everything" but came up just short in the Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was bidding for a record-breaking eighth title in 2021 and battled back admirably after trailing Max Verstappen for much of the year.

It looked as though the Mercedes great would pip Verstappen as he led for the majority of Sunday's decisive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, only for a late safety car to bring the Dutchman back into contention with one lap to go.

Verstappen, on fresh tyres, was able to get past Hamilton, leaving Mercedes furious with race director Michael Masi.

Immediately after the heartbreaking finish, though, Hamilton congratulated an emotional Verstappen and then turned his attention to the Silver Arrows staff.

"Firstly, a big congratulations to Max and to his team," Hamilton said. "I think we did an amazing job this year.

"Everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, they've worked so hard this whole year. It's been the most difficult of seasons. I'm so proud of them, so grateful to be a part of the journey with them.

"We gave it everything in this last part of the season, absolutely everything. We never gave up.

"I've been feeling great in the car this past couple of months, particularly at the end.

"But we're still in the pandemic and I just wish everyone to stay safe and have a good Christmas with their families and we'll see you guys next year."

Max Verstappen sensationally won his first Formula One world championship ahead of Lewis Hamilton as an epic title race concluded in predictably contentious circumstances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

In only the second championship chase to see the top two enter the final race of the season all square on points, Verstappen had to match Hamilton but struggled to do so for much of Sunday's remarkable race.

Red Bull were furious following an early flashpoint that had Hamilton ahead, yet Mercedes were outraged by the chequered flag as Verstappen, on fresh tyres, was allowed a single lap after a safety car to take the title.

Hamilton looked to have done everything right but paid for Mercedes' call not to bring him into the pit lane in the closing stages.

A tough start had been forecast for Hamilton when he stuck with medium tyres while Verstappen – and others close behind – used softs. Instead, rapid reactions at lights out put the Mercedes in front.

But then the drama truly began, as Verstappen looked to go up the inside at Turn 7 and Hamilton was forced wide and off the track to avoid contact.

The defending champion clearly gained an advantage and pulled away from his rival, only for the stewards – in a decision Verstappen considered "incredible" – to deem Hamilton had given enough time back.

Verstappen and Hamilton both switched to hards in the pits, putting the frontrunner behind Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull car.

Perez doggedly held Hamilton up and brought Verstappen back into play before the Silver Arrow finally got through, able to again build a big lead until a virtual safety car provided another twist.

With Hamilton staying out, Verstappen headed in for a cheap pit stop, potentially setting up a nervy finish with a 17-second deficit on fresh tyres.

Verstappen struggled to find the requisite pace but was given another lifeline by a safety car with four laps remaining.

Again he pitted as Hamilton did not and a dramatic finish saw lapped cars allowed to pass the safety car, infuriating Mercedes and leaving Verstappen one lap to go at the race leader, who he decisively passed at the last.

'NO, MICHAEL, NO!'

This was a day to tune into the team radios, with a number of intriguing exchanges as momentum swung back and forth.

Verstappen hailed Perez as a "legend" for delaying Hamilton, while the Mercedes man considered his team's decision not to box "a bit of a risk" long before another gamble spectacularly backfired.

But Toto Wolff's pleas to race director Michael Masi were the obvious standout, as Hamilton was left exposed on the final lap. "We went car racing," replied Masi.

MAX MAKES HIS MARK

Hamilton fell just short of history on this occasion, stuck on seven titles alongside Michael Schumacher, but there was a new landmark for champion Verstappen.

His 18th podium of the year was undoubtedly the sweetest and made the Dutchman the first man to reach that mark in a single F1 season.

RAIKKONEN RETIRES IN PITS

Away from the title race, Kimi Raikkonen's record-extending 351st and final grand prix in Formula One did not end as planned, with the veteran experiencing braking issues and hitting the barriers at Turn 6 as his rear axle locked up.

Although Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo limped back to the pits, he could not continue and was given a standing ovation as he prematurely exited his car.

Max Verstappen won a controversial rollercoaster Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton to sensationally claim his first Formula One world championship.

Emerson Fittipaldi is one of only two men who knows exactly the emotions Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton will experience as they do battle in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Verstappen and Hamilton head into the final grand prix of the Formula One season tied at the top of the standings on 369.5 points.

Red Bull's Verstappen has a slight advantage, having won more races – a potentially pivotal tie-breaker – and taken pole on Saturday, but he will start alongside Hamilton on the front row.

At the 1974 United States Grand Prix, Fittipaldi lined up next to title rival Clay Regazzoni – albeit in eighth and ninth – in the only previous example of the top two being all square heading into the last race of the year.

"[There was] incredible pressure on myself, on the team, on my family, on my friends, on the sponsors," Fittipaldi told Stats Perform.

"When you think [about] going to the last race on equal points, I don't even call it a race, I call it like a duel.

"And knowing that only one is going to be world champion, there's no other chance. After two hours, someone is going to be world champion – one or the other.

"There was tremendous pressure, with all my race experience. I raced in Indianapolis, everywhere, the Brazilian Grand Prix, Monza – where I decided my first world championship.

"I had never experienced so much pressure in my career. I only slept like three hours the night before."

Now as an outsider, though, Fittipaldi is relishing seeing F1's two modern superstars go toe-to-toe in the most highly anticipated grand prix in years.

"I know that's going to happen on Sunday with Max and Lewis," the Brazilian said. "They will have so much pressure. The teams are under tremendous pressure and remember the families, the sponsors, the public.

"It will be a fantastic grand prix to watch. And this is why I say it's one of the best situations ever for a Formula One grand finale – it will be a grand finale, for sure."

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton indicated they have both enjoyed their heated rivalry for this season's Formula One world championship on the eve of their crucial encounter in Abu Dhabi.

Both go into Sunday's final race of the season level on 369.5 points, just the second time the top two in F1 have headed into the finale all square.

Red Bull's Verstappen beat Mercedes and Hamilton to pole position on Saturday by 0.371 seconds with a flying lap that gives him a clear view of his first world championship.

Should he win his eighth title on Sunday, Hamilton will surpass Michael Schumacher in becoming the driver to have won the most world championships in F1 history.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Sunday's race, Verstappen and Hamilton were both asked to list some positives about the other, despite the rivalry appearing to turn nasty in recent times.

"I think Lewis has already won so many championships, but also this year I think we have been pushing each other, certainly in some races, to the limit," Verstappen said. 

"We have been really basically trying to get everything out of our cars, tyres, to the last lap, to the last corner and that's very exciting, especially when it's been between two teams as well because when it's team-mates, it's always a bit different.

"But when two teams are fighting, you have different strategies you don't know about, preparation, so it has been really enjoyable for most of the time.

"That's normal in a championship and yeah, of course, in 10, 20 years' time, people will look back at it, even myself, and you will remember this year for sure."

Hamilton agreed, adding: "Well said. I agree fully. It’s been an incredible year, an amazing battle and I'm grateful that I've had such a close battle with Max and his team.

"I think they've done an exceptional job and shown true strength and so it's pushed us to the limit in ways that we needed and we, I think, have grown stronger as a team in ways we didn't know that we could grow and yeah, it's been amazing. I hope that we have many more seasons like this."

The Dutchman does enjoy a slender advantage in the title race due to his superior win tally, and is also boosted by the fact that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix's winner has started from pole in each of the last six races, though he was keen to play down the significance of statistics.

"First of all," Verstappen said. "I never look at these stats because these things can already change at the start or whatever, first lap, so I just need to focus on what we can control as a team and yeah, the coming hours.

"I think what's most important is to have a good sleep, but also I have friends and family around, so I'm not going to do anything different to what I normally have been doing."

Verstappen will start on a soft tyre that should initially work in his favour, potentially leaving Hamilton – on mediums – battling the chasing pack. Hamilton is not too worried, though, saying: "I feel good. I'm happy that I'm on the front row. I can see my opponent.

"Obviously it's going to be a little bit harder at the start off the medium tyre as opposed to the soft tyre but nonetheless, I'm giving it everything."

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