In 2022, Max Verstappen clinched his second Formula 1 title four races before the end of the season in Japan. With a clear lead over his first rival Charles Leclerc, the title duel was also less dramatic than in the previous year, when Verstappen and Hamilton were separated by only eight points. At the most recent Grand Prix, a year later, Verstappen admits the controversy of the last lap and he feels for Hamilton last year.
The decision was not made until the season finale in Abu Dhabi, the last laps of which are still controversial today and still cause debate a year later. Time and again there is talk of a stolen title and manipulation.
Hamilton himself renewed his criticism at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and spoke of a rigged title, which Red Bull naturally countered saying “So I can’t understand that at all,” Helmut Marko told Sky.
“It’s decided and the race director has decided. And just that two cars were not brought back to the front would not have made any difference. They (Mercedes) could have changed tyres, after all. But we are looking ahead. The championship is decided. And for us, we can’t keep bringing up this issue again.”
Verstappen feels reminded of 2021
However, it could not be completely ignored – especially at the venue. On the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi weekend, Verstappen confessed: “Coming back here also brings back a lot of memories from back then. It was very stressful. Compared to this year, of course, it was very different.”
Asked if he has re-watched the infamous race many times since, the double world champion reveals, “When I came home I watched it, but then not for a long time. I definitely had goosebumps the first few times.”
Verstappen can still remember the last lap well. “The nerves were going crazy. At that point it was the most important lap of my life – will it be the title or not? The worst thing was that I got a calf cramp in the middle of the straight. So of course the throttle control is a bit …. difficult.”
He finally put the attack on Hamilton at turn 5. “I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to go for it’. I don’t think anyone, not my dad, not Christian (Horner, team boss), expected me to do it there. Then I was in the lead and I had these two long straights in front of me,” he recaps of the final metres.
“Biggest emotional outburst of my life”
“With my foot, it was terrible. You fight for the World Cup and then things like that come along. It was really painful.” Still, it was enough for the title and the victory cheer afterwards:
“It was the biggest emotional outburst of my life.”
“I think you could hear it on the radio. Everybody was crying. It was the biggest moment in my career at that time,” Verstappen looks back. But he knows that one man’s joy is another man’s sorrow. That’s why he understands Hamilton’s frustration.
“Everything looked great for him and then something like this happens. That’s tough. The only thing I said to myself at the time was, ‘It’s seven titles and won one of them as well,’ when it looked like he was going to lose, and then it turned around on the last lap. So I hoped he would understand.”
“But yes, I felt for him,” stresses Verstappen, keeping the 2021 title fight mainly in positive memory: “Of course there were moments when we clashed. But I always respected him and I think we had a great duel.”