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Max Verstappen Wins First World Championship In Heated Battle With Lewis Hamilton

After one of the most exciting seasons in Formula 1 history, Max Verstappen is the 2021 World Champion. The 24-year-old driver is the first Dutchman to win the title, the most prestigious honor in motorsport. He did it in thrilling fashion on Sunday at the last race of the season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where he entered the contest tied in points with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. This was only the second time in F1 history that the championship was tied heading into the finale. He also set an F1 record with 18 podiums in a season.

"It’s insane. I don’t know what to say," Verstappen said after the race, soaking in the glory.

Verstappen got pole position in qualifying, but lost the lead quickly when Hamilton jumped ahead of him from P2 to start the race. There was an early scuffle when Verstappen lurched into Turn 7 and Hamilton drove through the curve, extending his lead. The stewards ruled that there was no investigation necessary and that Hamilton didn't have to give back the place, which frustrated Verstappen and his Red Bull team.

Hamilton, who would have broken Michael Schumacher's record number of championships with a win, led much of the race, but battled Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez on Lap 20 after he lost the lead when he pitted. Checo played expert defense as the Brit swerved back and forth trying to pass before finally retaining the lead. The battle closed the gap between the two rivals down to two seconds.

"Checo is a legend," Verstappen said on team radio after the duel.

On Lap 54, with only four laps left, Nicholas Latifi spun out and hit the barriers, ending his race and bringing out the safety car. Verstappen pitted right away for fresh tires and the safety car closed the gap between all the cars. There was much speculation over whether the race would end behind the safety car, giving Lewis Hamilton the win and the championship. But the FIA allowed five cars that had been lapped to pass the safety car under Article 48.12 and then resumed the race with one lap left. Taking full advantage of the gift from the racing gods, Verstappen leaped ahead, sped away and took home the title.

Mercedes protested the decision, declaring that the rule had not been followed all the way by letting all eight cars who had been lapped to pass. The stewards dismissed the protest and Verstappen remained the winner.

Carlos Sainz finished third, just half a second ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, for his fourth podium of the season. He finished fifth in the drivers' championship after scoring points in 15 straight races.

The Silver Arrows did win the Constructors Championship for the eighth consecutive time, finishing 28 points ahead of Red Bull. They say goodbye to Valtteri Bottas, who will be joining Alfa Romeo, and will be welcoming George Russell, who raced the last three years for Williams.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the last competition for Kimi Räikkönen, who did not finish the race after running into the barriers at Turn 6. The Fin spent 20 years in Formula 1 and won the 2007 championship. He leads the sport with 349 grand prix starts and is fifth all-time with 109 career podiums.

As Formula 1 passes the torch to the next generation, Verstappen will wear No.1 next year when he defends his title. The 2022 season will feature several changes to the car and a 23-race schedule.

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