That was the title decider that we, the fans, deserved. And, in Max Verstappen, the 2021 season has a worthy champion who didn’t put a foot wrong in one of the most remarkable title deciders in history.
Was it the final race conclusion which Lewis Hamilton deserved? Well, Mercedes didn’t think so and their post-race protests were an almost inevitable epilogue to race 22 which had more melodrama than even the producers of Drive to Survive could dream up.
This has been the best F1 world championship for years, arguably the greatest ever and, while there was controversy in the final stanza, there is great relief that the championship was decided on the final lap in a thrilling wheel to wheel tussle which – alone of the interactions between the two teams in recent races – produced no rancour.
Lewis Hamilton will feel aggrieved. He drove pretty much impeccably all afternoon. The Hamilton-Mercedes combination was clearly the fastest and were it not for that irritating variable which annoys all engineers – the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – he would now be celebrating his eighth title.
Verstappen’s race was pretty much without blemish, too, which adds to a certain frustration that they can’t share the title. At the end of a year when there was little to choose between Mercedes and Red Bull, it was almost inevitable that both teams would be displaying symptoms of paranoia in recent races.
Individual decisions from Race Control ought not be taken in aggregate and Michael Masi and the Stewards were surely policing each incident on individual merits but there was a sense that things balanced out on the final day.
Hamilton was surely fortunate to retain the lead after running off track on lap one. The Stewards’ ‘nothing to see here’ call was frustrating for every race fan given Verstappen stayed on track. If there was a wall at the edge of the track would Hamilton have ended up against it or would he have been able to slot in behind Verstappen?
The rights or wrongs of the regulation probably come down to that. Verstappen would, no doubt, be quick to point out that there isn’t a wall at the edge of the track and that he, battling to win a maiden world title, stayed on the tarmac.
Oddly, had Hamilton been forced to cede the lead at that time and followed Verstappen to the first round of stops, the Mercedes driver would probably have gained a tactical advantage. On pace alone he would surely have taken the lead at the switch to fresh rubber.
Verstappen clung by his fingernails to the coat tails of Hamilton’s flying Mercedes and got the most out of a car which, thanks to his extraordinary talent, lifted him miles clear of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and his own team mate Sergio Perez.
It’s a peculiar state of affairs when a driver who has been clearly vanquished on outright pace is able to come back into the mix via the tactical advantage gained by following another driver when a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car is declared.
Mercedes made no tactical errors around pit stop strategy and Red Bull’s safety car plays were obvious. It’s easy to dive to the pit lane when the leader doesn’t and likewise impossible in that situation for the leader to pit and give up hard won track position.
For Red Bull, putting Verstappen onto fresher tyres brought them back onto the front foot which they had been fighting to regain after Verstappen’s qualifying two flat spot on Saturday. That was his only error in what was a terrific conclusion to a thoroughly entertaining year.
As I write the race stewards, the team principals and a number of high fee lawyers were poring over a rule book chock-full of strangulated prose. It would be a crying shame if the driver’s title were to be decided in a court room.
Mercedes won the World Constructor’s Championship, Max Verstappen is a very deserving World Driver’s Champion and we, the viewers, won the ‘privileged to see it’ title.