A sensational end to a remarkable season saw Max crowned 2021 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Champion with a pass for victory on the final lap of the race.
Starting from pole, Max dropped to second behind Lewis Hamilton in the opening stint after a controversial ruling that he had not completed what appeared to be a fantastic overtaking move when Hamilton cut Turn 7 to remain ahead. In response, Red Bull went aggressive with its strategy and stopped on lap 13 for hard tyres.
Hamilton responded instantly and that left Sergio in the lead on soft tyres having yet to make a pits stop. Some sensational driving saw the Mexican brilliantly hold Hamilton at bay at low speed, allowing Max to close the gap and keep Hamilton in range.
Once overtaken, Sergio made his first stop on lap 22 for hard tyres, with Yuki doing the same a lap later to switch from mediums to hards. Pierre had started on the hard compound and ran long, rising to run in the top six as the race settled down for a spell.
The first interruption came on lap 35 when Antonio Giovinazzi stopped on track, leading to a Virtual Safety Car period. That allowed Max, Sergio and Pierre all to make a pit stop that cost less time, with the two Red Bulls fitting more hard tyres, and Pierre having to switch to mediums in order to have run both compounds.
When racing resumed, Max had a gap of 20 seconds to close down and was quickly reducing Hamilton’s lead, but time appeared to be running out until Nicholas Latifi crashed with six laps remaining. That brought out a Safety Car, and once again the importance of Sergio’s defending was clear as Mercedes couldn’t make a pit stop but Max and Sergio could, as Yuki and Pierre also followed the Red Bulls in switching to soft tyres for a late restart.
After discussions over the way it would be handled, the race restarted with one lap remaining and Max had just 16 corners to try and take the title. He overtook Hamilton into Turn 5 with a clever move, held on into the next chicane and then defended again at Turn 9 to repel the Mercedes and take an unbelievable victory on the final lap of the final race.
While Sergio unfortunately had to retire the car, he had more than played his part, and there were further reasons for celebration as Scuderia AlphaTauri secured a double top five finish with Yuki fourth ahead of Pierre. It was Yuki’s best result at the end of his rookie season, and while it wasn’t enough for the team to regain fifth in the constructors’ championship it was still an excellent result to round off the season.
But all eyes were on the new world champion as an emotional Max celebrated his first drivers’ championship, in what was the perfect ending to our time in F1, as he secured the sixth Honda-powered drivers’ title and the first since Ayrton Senna in 1991.
Technical Director, Honda Racing F1
“At the final race of the 2021 season, Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing Honda have won the Drivers’ championship. Honda started this current F1 project back in 2015 and from the very beginning, winning the championships was always our goal. We put a lot of effort into it, challenging ourselves every day as we strived to improve and now, on the last lap of the last race of the season and the last race of Honda’s time in the sport, we have achieved our goal. All that effort and challenging spirit has paid off and I can’t really find the words to express what this means. It was unfortunate that we had to retire Checo from the race, after spotting an anomaly on his PU data, but until then he demonstrated great team-spirit, playing his part in the final result.
For Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda, both drivers performed well all weekend and Yuki’s fourth place finish is his best result of his rookie season. He really put together everything he learned this year and along with the usual strong drive from Pierre to get to fifth, this was the team’s best overall result of what has been an excellent year for them.
Unfortunately, we missed out on the Constructors’ title, but we are still happy that with Max we won the Drivers’. All the ups and downs and struggles of the past seven years finally paid off. During that time, engineers and mechanics from HRD UK and Sakura and other Honda departments never gave up, continuing development work and making so many breakthroughs, working hard day after day and the fruits of that were seen tonight in Abu Dhabi. On behalf of Honda, I would like to thank everyone at Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri, as well as all the drivers we have worked with since 2015 and the fans who have always supported us through thick and thin. Our Formula 1 challenge has now finished with this race, but I firmly believe that all the experience we have gained will feed through to Honda’s future technologies and Honda will continue taking on new technological challenges in many areas in the future. To everyone in Formula 1, a final thank you.”
Managing Director, Honda Racing F1
“We made it, we won the Drivers’ championship, we did it together with everyone involved in our project and our teams and also with the support of the fans. The race itself today was really dramatic and the title was decided on the very last lap of the year. The close battle over those final kilometres perfectly sums up how the whole season went. If you set the bar very high, you can still reach it if you keep challenging.
Today’s race marks the end of Honda’s F1 project. We came back into the sport in 2015 as a PU supplier, attracted by this very sophisticated hybrid PU technology. From then until today, 7 seasons and 141 races have gone by. Compared to our rivals, our development time was relatively short and partly because of that, we struggled a lot in the beginning and we hit rock bottom in the early days. However, even while having to deal with logistical difficulties partly down to the Covid-19 pandemic, in this our last season we have been fighting with very strong rivals and we came out on top of the Formula 1 world. This is due to all the hard work from all our engineers and mechanics, not just those at the race track. They never gave up even in the most difficult times and made numerous technological breakthroughs along the way. We were able to prove the validity and effectiveness of our technology and the abilities of our workforce. Of course, we could not have achieved these results without the major role played by our great partners, Red Bull Racing with whom we won the title and also Scuderia AlphaTauri who welcomed us with an open mind, allowing us to move forward together after a difficult three years. We should not forget McLaren, with whom this era started back in 2015 and all the drivers who have worked with us, always putting maximum effort into achieving the best possible results. Without all these elements working together and without the passion of each individual involved, we would not be where we are today. Last but not least, I’d like to thank all our fans who have always supported us through thick and thin, even when there was no light at the end of the tunnel and we had considered giving up. It’s not just me who took strength from the support of our fans. I myself went racing with the belief that Honda’s power of dreams would one day come true and that we would enjoy our success with our fans. There is nothing better than sharing the highs of victory and the lows of defeat with you, as we made it to the top together.
We can say this project has been a success as we leave the sport having helped Max Verstappen win the Drivers’ World Championship However, it might be considered an even greater success if it stays in the hearts and minds of our fans and serves as an example to them when they too have to face a great challenge. Our journey unfortunately ends with this Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Honda now moves on to another challenge, aiming to be carbon neutral, making the best use of technologies and human resources developed in Formula 1. Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri will continue to use a PU developed by Honda, while our company starts a new chapter and I hope the fans continue to support us. Once again, I’d like to thank everyone involved in this F1 project and the fans. Domo arigato!”
Red Bull Racing Honda
Race : 1st
“It feels incredible to be World Champion and I couldn’t have asked for a more insane last race of the year. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, from not really having a chance of winning until the last lap, everything came together, and we had to go for it. I kept saying to myself, I am just going to give it my all and I have until the end and that is what we did. Of course, with that safety car restart in the last lap we had the fresher tyres but you still need to do the move – luckily it worked out. I want to say a big thank to Checo, because of his performance today, I won the Championship, he was driving his heart out for this Team. Today showed exactly what great teamwork is, he's an amazing teammate. Mercedes won the Constructors’ and we won the Driver’s Championship so it really shows that throughout the whole year we pushed each other to the very end. Lewis is an amazing driver, there is no discussion about it. Of course, we had our moments throughout the season but I think you know that after everything we had an amazing fight this season and I think both teams gave it their all.”
Red Bull Racing Honda
Race : DNF
“First of all, I'm extremely happy for Max and for this Team because they have worked so hard throughout the year and for many years. Max really deserves this Championship with the level he has driven at. I'm very happy to contribute to his title, he's been a tremendous teammate and a great guy, I couldn't be happier for him. Lewis was in control of the race and Max was 10 seconds or so behind so I am extremely happy I could do something to help the outcome. I was on extremely old tyres so there was not much I could do but I managed to take a couple of seconds of out of Lewis, which was critical and had an impact on the race. You don't want to get involved in their Championship and their battle, they've worked so hard for to be in this moment, but this is my Team, I did that for my Team and for Max. I think finishing second was possible for me today with the way the race ended up concluding, but I had to retire because my car was not looking great and it could have ended up creating another safety car. It's a shame in the end that we didn't get the Constructions title, but I'm extremely happy with the job we’ve done this season.”
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Race : 4th
“I’m so happy, what an incredible result to end the season with. I think overall this weekend the car has been really strong, I didn’t expect the race pace to be quite as good but in the end it has been a great day. It’s amazing to be finishing the season on such a high, it’s been a long journey getting back to this point, but I’ve really rebuilt my confidence and it’s great heading into the off-season with this incredible result. Huge congratulations to Max, it was such a tough battle throughout the season and I think he really deserved it today. I want to thank him also for giving this great result to Honda, as he’s given them the best way to celebrate their last year in F1.”
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Race : 5th
“I’m extremely happy to finish in P5 today, it’s the best way to end this year. It’s been an incredible season, the most successful for us as a team in 15 years, we’ve scored a lot of points and there have been many highlights. We’ve focused on ourselves every single race and I think we’ve performed well this season, so I’m really proud of everyone. I’m really pleased for Max, we grew up racing together, we knew he would have been World Champion one day and he did it today. It’s well deserved and I’m also happy for Honda, after all the years of hard work they’ve managed to get this Championship in their final year.”