For the longest season in Formula One history it was incredible to see the World Championship decided on the last lap of the last race, writes Mika Hakkinen.
I could not believe what happened on Sunday and I know that’s how the fans feel about it too. We will be talking about this for a long time!
After Lewis Hamilton made such a fantastic start from P2 on the grid and took control of the race I thought we were going to see a predictable victory and an eighth title. Never mind that Max Verstappen tried that big move on the first lap, a move that would have resulted in an accident except Hamilton had the option of using the run-off. As I have said before, you should overtake using speed, skill and precision, not by driving your rival off the track.
When the Safety Car session caused by Nicolas Latifi’s accident came to an end, giving the two championship rivals one lap to decide the World Championship, it was clear Verstappen had a significant advantage. On fresh, soft compound tires, he had more grip available than Hamilton on his heavily used hard tires.
The overtake was inevitable, even though Hamilton defended the best he could. Verstappen did what he needed to do, winning the race and claiming the championship. Verstappen and Hamilton both looked shocked, although their words after the race were great to hear. Perfect ambassadors for the sport.
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Was Race Director Michael Masi right to speed up the end of the Safety Car period, letting the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton unlap themselves and setting up a race over one lap?
It would have been much worse if this World Championship had finished behind a Safety Car. That would have been such an anti-climax. The Race Director’s decision, later supported by the four Stewards, is based on his understanding of the rules, including his responsibility for deciding when the Safety Car returns to the pits. Balancing decisions between ensuring safety and promoting racing is the toughest job facing the Race Director.
Looking at the result, in terms of safety and promoting racing, Michael Masi did his job. If Mercedes decide to protest the result of the race, and the Drivers’ World Championship, the decisions that were made and the way the rules were applied will be examined in detail. I don’t believe the results will change. Verstappen and Hamilton are both Champion drivers. Hamilton has seven titles to show for it and Verstappen now has one.
Red Bull Honda did a fantastic job to take the fight to Mercedes this year and Verstappen’s World Championship is deserved. Hamilton missed out on an extraordinary eighth title by the smallest of margins. The fact that he and Valtteri Bottas won the Constructors Championship provides some balance. The largest slice of the prize money will also help.
This was the closest possible fight, a season that seemed to be going Red Bull’s way until Hamilton began his push towards the end of the season. His victories in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia showed why he is such a star. He lifted the team.
Three other performances on Sunday deserve my comments; Carlos Sainz Jr’s podium for Ferrari was a great performance. To finish the season ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc shows how strong, talented and committed Sainz is. Let’s hope that under the new regulations Ferrari give them both a quicker car capable of winning races.
Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez did the perfect job to support Verstappen in the race, staying out of the pits long enough to delay Hamilton by around seven seconds and come back at him with a fantastic overtaking manoeuvre to repass the World Champion. I love seeing that commitment, wheel to wheel racing, and it again showed why Perez was such a great choice to partner Verstappen.
My former team McLaren finished the season fourth in the World Championship, a brilliant turnaround in performance over the last four years. They impressed me this year, with Daniel Ricciardo’s win in Monza a highlight and Lando Norris being one of the stars of the season. The future is bright for them, and it is equally bright for Formula One.
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