Who wants a bit of controversy? (Or: Max Verstappen is the first Dutch F1 champion)

Max Verstappen won the F1 world championship today, but not without a bit of controversy. Let me paint the picture for you: Verstappen and Hamilton (7 time world champion) went into the last race of the season tied in the points. Hamilton had control most of the race, but Max based him in the last lap of the race to win. To win!

But along the way there was a slight hiccup where Hamilton was racing Verstappen hard going into the corner and Hamilton decided to cut the corner, taking an illegal line and gaining an advantage and first place. The FIA (governing body) said they would not investigate further. Then there was an absolutely brilliant battle between Hamilton and the second Red Bull Racing driver, Checo Perez (YouTube). Due to pit strategy Perez was briefly in the lead, with Hamilton trying to pass him on new tires. Verstappen was about 7-8 seconds behind. Perez managed to hold Hamilton off for one lap, slowing him down so much that Verstappen caught up to both of them. Cue the Jaws music with two Red Bulls right behind Hamilton ready to pounce… But in the end Hamilton got away again. It was great to watch.

The end of the race saw pit strategy playing out again, with Verstappen going in for new tires during a late caution but putting him back a bit further in the pack. There were only a few laps left, and it looked like the race might end under yellow. And then the FIA (governing body) decided that only the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen could unlap themselves so that the race could go green sooner, which went against the rules book. Things only got weirder from there. I believe there were complaints that Verstappen overtook Hamilton while the safety car was still on the track and unofficial complaints that Hamilton slowed down too much behind the safety car (the lead car can decide the pace and when to go, to an extent). In the end Verstappen passed Hamilton on the final lap and won the championship.

Mercedes (Hamilton’s team) has entered a two-part protest, and the FIA will deliver their ruling shortly. And I suspect if Mercedes doesn’t like the result they will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it remains to be seen what happens then. The ruling that Verstappen illegally overtook Hamilton behind the safety car was thrown out in the last half hour and the final ruling about FIA only letting some cars unlap themselves before the final lap will occur shortly.

It was quite a surreal race, and not the way I wanted it to end. Hamilton was a class act with his response, gracious in defeat. It did remind me a bit of the podcast episode “The 1972 Olympic Men’s Basketball Final” from the podcast Everything Everywhere. At least in that this one will be talked about for a very long time, and the diehard fans for either side will probably keep supporting their side. But it is probably good that everyone can get a break for a few months. The 2022 season starts in March!

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