LEWIS HAMILTON was controversially beaten by Max Verstappen at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix earlier this month.
Sebastian Vettel received a gift from Max Verstappen prior to this month’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that convinced the Aston Martin driver to support his Dutch counterpart over Lewis Hamilton in their battle for Drivers’ Championship glory. Verstappen ultimately came out on top in the final race of the season to clinch the end-of-season honours for the very first time at the expense of Hamilton and Mercedes.
He reaped the rewards of a late safety car period following Nicholas Latifi’s crash that allowed him to get on Hamilton’s tail for the final-lap shootout that followed.
The 24-year-old was on much fresher tyres than his Mercedes rival and overtook him with ease to nip into the lead before the chequered flag.
It was a cruel end to proceedings for Hamilton, who led for almost the entirety of the race and established a 13-second gap over Verstappen before the safety car changed the trajectory of the contest.
However, the Red Bull man was ahead in the standings for most of the year and led more laps than all other 19 drivers combined, making him a worthy champion in spite of the controversial manner by which he won in Abu Dhabi.
Vettel unsuccessfully battled Hamilton for the Drivers’ Championship crown on a number of occasions during his time with Ferrari but managed to win four titles with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013.
He is known to enjoy a strong relationship with the Brit but gave his backing to Verstappen after receiving his ‘secret santa’ gift from this year’s eventual champion.
Vettel was given a litter pick in reference to his post-race exploits at the British Grand Prix back in July, where he joined volunteers to clean up the stands as the sun went down on Silverstone following Hamilton’s victory.
“I’m not sure how much he had to do with that, to be honest,” joked the German driver when quizzed on his gift from Verstappen by F1’s official YouTube channel.
“But thank you Max, and I hope you win the championship!”
Vettel went on to express his sympathy towards Hamilton after the end of the race in Abu Dhabi, insisting that the Mercedes driver was unfortunate to have had his lead stripped away by the late safety car.
“The situation made a very strange impression,” he told reporters in the immediate aftermath of proceedings.
“The field behind the safety car should have been sorted out much earlier. I made the suggestion on the radio after the first lap [under the safety car].
“I only saw the Dutch fans jump on the last lap, then I knew Max is in front. And Lewis didn’t stand a chance with his tyres.
“They both would have deserved the title. It’s a shame for Hamilton, because he had a very strong second half of the season.
“Now I just congratulate both drivers.”
Vettel managed to secure a 12th-placed finish in the Drivers’ Championship standings with Aston Martin, who endured a disappointing year after an impressive campaign in 2020.
Meanwhile, Verstappen will be looking to defend his newly-acquired title from Hamilton when the new F1 season gets underway at the Bahrain Grand Prix in March of next year.