Motorsport: Max Verstappen wins Formula One world championship with last-lap pass in Abu Dhabi, Mercedes protest result

Red Bull's Max Verstappen took his first Formula One title, denying rival Lewis Hamilton a record eighth, with a last-lap overtake to win a season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that started and ended in drama and controversy.

Hamilton's Mercedes team secured the constructors' championship for an unprecedented eighth successive year, but lodged a protest against the race result, alleging breaches of the sporting regulations when the safety car was deployed late in the race.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Race winner and 2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty Images

Stewards say Mercedes protested "against the classification established at the end of the competition", arguing there was a breach of article 48.12.

Verstappen had backmarkers between him and Hamilton, after pitting with the safety car deployed and time running out for racing to resume.

Race director Michael Masi decided that only the five lapped cars between the two title rivals should be allowed to unlap themselves, instead of all lapped cars, as is the usual procedure.

In a second protest, Mercedes also argue that article 48.8 was breached, with Verstappen's car moving in front of Hamilton's before racing resumed, as he waited impatiently for the Briton to lead away.

Unless authorised to do so, overtaking is illegal, while the safety car is on track.

Protest denied

But the protest was dismissed and  Red Bull's Max Verstappen is officially the 2021 world champion.

Verstappen, 24, ends a run of double dominance dating back to 2014.

"It's insane," says the first Dutch world champion, who had started the day on pole position and level on points with Hamilton, and whose hopes sank and rose, as the stewards intervened.

"This is unbelievable guys! Can we do this for another 10-15 years together.

"We needed a bit of luck and we got it," says team boss Christian Horner..

No Collision 

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen Photo credit: Getty Images
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty Images

The race at Yas Marina started and ended in controversy, but without the collision many had feared.

There were tears of joy at Red Bull and rage at Mercedes, whose fury was directed at Australian race director Masi, as the drivers' title disappeared so close to the chequered flag.

Red Bull, whose partners Honda are now departing the sport, said during the race they needed a miracle to win, as Hamilton made the most of a quicker car to head towards the title.

After Canadian Nicholas Latifi crashed with five laps to go, a late safety car intervention provided hope and it was game on when Masi decided not to let all lapped cars pass the safety car, before resuming racing.

That allowed Verstappen - on fresher, faster tyres after strategic stops - to close and go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton for the lead.

At one point, it had seemed the race could finish behind the safety car, as marshals took time to remove Latifi's stranded Williams.

"We were screaming at the end to let them race," says Horner. "It is unheard of to leave the cars unlapped.

"They wanted to get the race going again. They absolutely made the right call."

Hamilton, who was heading for a fourth successive race win and 104th of his career, congratulated the new champion.

"I think we did an amazing job this year," says the seven-time world champion. "The team, everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, worked so hard all year in a difficult season.

"I am so proud of them and so grateful to be part of the journey with them. We gave it everything this last part of the season and never gave up, that's the most important thing."

Pole Master

Verstappen ended the season with 10 wins to Hamilton's eight, after also leading more laps and taken more poles and podiums.

After 22 a record races, Verstappen had 395.5 points to Hamilton's 387.5. Mercedes scored 613.5 to Red Bull's 585.5.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz finished the race in third place, with AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda fourth and teammate Pierre Gasly fifth.

Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas was sixth in his last race for the team, ahead of McLaren's Lando Norris and the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc took the final point, with the Italian team ending the season third overall.

Hailed as a "legend" by the Dutch driver for slowing Hamilton significantly, while leading earlier in the race, Verstappen's Mexican teammate Sergio Perez was retired by Red Bull in the pits.

The race hit immediate controversy on the opening lap, when the title rivals almost collided, after the Briton had taken the lead.

Hamilton was pushed wide, cutting a corner as he came back still in front of Verstappen, who had made a lunge on the inside and seemed to be ahead at the turn, and stewards decided no investigation was needed.

"That's incredible, what are they doing here?," said Verstappen when informed.

Horner told Sky Sports television from the pitwall that there was "a total lack of consistency" in the stewards' decision and his team now had to "do it the hard way".