An emotional Max Verstappen was moved to tears during an interview as he watched back scenes of his Formula One Drivers’ Championship success against Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Dutchman won his first ever world title at the Yas Marina Circuit after a last-lap overtake on his Mercedes rival which meant the Red Bull driver finished on 395.5 points to the Briton’s 387.5 points.
For much of the race it looked as though Verstappen would be made to wait for his first championship with Hamilton cruising out in front even on older hard tyres.
But good fortune and smart Red Bull strategy allowed the 24-year-old to get round Hamilton on the last lap after a safety car restart.
It secured Verstappen’s 10th race win of the season in a year in which he finished no lower than second in 18 of 22 races, suffering DNFs in three of the other four races in Baku, Silverstone and Monza.
It completes a remarkable rise for Verstappen who started out in F1 just five days after his 17th birthday back in 2014, becoming the youngest ever to start a full F1 season in 2015.
The following year when he was promoted to the Red Bull senior team during the season, he became F1’s youngest ever Grand Prix winner in Spain at 18 years, seven months and 15 days.
Five years on, Verstappen stands on 20 wins, 60 podiums and 13 pole positions and has been widely backed to become a multiple-time world champion.
And while speaking to Dutch outlet Ziggo Sport, Verstappen had to fight back tears as footage showed him in the immediate aftermath of his victory, including clips greeting Hamilton, speaking to Lewis’ father Anthony and moments with his own dad Jos
Verstappen tells the interviewer while the clips play: “These are very special moments that you will never forget in your life, really beautiful.”
He also thanked his team-mate Sergio Perez, who played a key role in holding up Hamilton at one stage of the race: “With the help of Checo Perez I won the world championship, it’s that simple. He brought me back into the race and I am very grateful to him for that.”
Verstappen also added of the post-title celebrations: “First I partied a lot and then slept for four hours.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner seemed to suggest his driver triumphed in one of F1’s greatest ever seasons.
Speaking ahead of the end-of-season FIA prize-giving ceremony in Paris, Horner declared: “It’s been an incredible year and when you look back at the season as a whole, 22 races, I think the biggest season Formula One has ever had and from the first race in Bahrain it has been so competitive.
“There’s been on average probably 0.1, 0.2s between the two drivers throughout the season and I think the way that Max has driven throughout the year, what’s really stood out for me is in moments of adversity where he’s just kept his head down.
“He’s kept believing, he’s kept pushing, he’s kept driving the team forward and we’ve known every time he’s got in the car he’s given it 110 per cent. That lifts everybody around
“Particularly in the second half of the year when we didn’t have the fastest package, he kept us in this championship, he kept fighting, he kept believing.
“It’s just been the most unbelievable year, we’re incredibly proud of everything he’s done this year and totally deserving of this world championship.”
By contrast, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reflected: “The decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of this race have robbed Lewis Hamilton of a deserved world championship. His driving, particularly in the last four races, was faultless.
“He had a commanding lead on Sunday in Abu Dhabi from the get-go. He won the start and he never gave the lead away again. And robbing him in the last lap of the race is unacceptable.
“That’s why from a personal standpoint, from a professional standpoint, my values, my sense of integrity, just isn’t compatible to the decisions that have been made on Sunday. And it is up to the FIA to decide going forward how these decisions, these situations can be avoided.”