Verstappen victory overshadows Hamilton history – epic F1 title race in numbers

By Sports Desk December 12, 2021

The history books will remember Max Verstappen as the 2021 Formula One champion.

However, anyone lucky enough to take in an astonishing back-and-forth battle with Lewis Hamilton will surely never forget just how close Verstappen was run.

As the fallout from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continues, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind this thrilling title race and its epic finale.

FIGHTING TO THE LAST

With the title decided on December 12 – the final day of the season – this matched the latest ever triumph in a calendar year, 62 years to the day since Jack Brabham secured the championship at the United States GP.

Hamilton's late-season form prevented Verstappen from wrapping up victory prior to that point, instead entering the Abu Dhabi GP tied on 369.5 points.

Only once previously had the top two been level ahead of the final grand prix of a season, when Emerson Fittipaldi got the better of Clay Regazzoni in their 1974 showdown at Watkins Glen.

Fittipaldi, speaking to Stats Perform this week, said he had "never experienced so much pressure in my career" as they engaged in "a duel".

The Brazilian told of how Regazzoni tried to ram him off the track, and the possibility of Verstappen – ahead on races won – doing likewise was discussed ahead of the Abu Dhabi decider, so fine were the margins.

The standings still did not end up quite as tight as the 1984 record, which saw Niki Lauda champion by half a point ahead of Alain Prost, who won the decisive race in Portugal but crucially had his rival finish second.

However, this was the first occasion one contender had passed the other during the final lap of the season to take the title.

VERSTAPPEN EVENTUALLY VICTORIOUS

Although Verstappen was widely considered Hamilton's biggest rival in pre-season, he had never actually led the championship at the start of the year.

That changed at the Monaco Grand Prix, though, and the Dutchman – the first champion from his country, the 15th different nation to triumph – was just about able to finish off the job.

In fact, had Hamilton held on in Abu Dhabi, Verstappen would have maintained the record as the driver to have led the standings for the most raceweeks without having won a title (14). He had taken that rather unwanted honour from Carlos Reutemann after the Saudi Arabian GP but got his name on the trophy seven days later.

A 10th win of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit – to go with his 10th pole – boosted Verstappen's 2021 podium tally to 18, the most by any driver in a single year in F1 history.

Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel had each reached the steps on 17 occasions in one season, while Hamilton has done so in five different campaigns. Of course, with 22 grands prix, this was the longest season ever in F1.

HISTORIC HAMILTON WAITS ON EIGHT

The landmark Hamilton really wanted – an eighth championship to take him clear of Schumacher – evaded him, but this was another historic season for one of the sport's true greats.

While Verstappen might be on top of the world right now, he has a long, long way to go to match Hamilton's extraordinary longevity.

At the Spanish GP in May, Hamilton secured his 100th pole, the first man to that mark. He then completed a century of race wins at the Russian GP in September.

Schumacher (68 poles, 91 wins) is next behind Hamilton in both categories, with Vettel a distant second among active challengers (57 poles, 53 wins).

Hamilton matched a Schumacher achievement in 2021 by winning at least one grand prix in a 15th consecutive season, with that record surely set to fall in 2022.

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