Max Verstappen Wins First F1 World Championship in Thrilling Showdown


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Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2019, in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.

Ethan Melendi, Sports Editor

Last night in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen overtook Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Verstappen and Hamilton have each had an absolutely thrilling battle all season, providing great racing and drama along the way. Prior to the race weekend, Verstappen and Hamilton were level on points going to the final race, the first time since 1974.

A strong qualifying session helped Verstappen gain pole position for the race, with Hamilton coming in second. At the start of the race, Hamilton got a much better start than Verstappen off the line, coming out in front of the Red Bull driver going into turn one. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez managed to get past Mclaren driver Lando Norris at turn one, and he and Verstappen set off to chase after Hamilton. Verstappen caught up to Hamilton at turn six, where he made a risky dive down the inside but Hamilton went off track and maintained his lead.

Hamilton stretched his lead out against Verstappen, due to Verstappen starting the race on faster degrading soft tires compared to Hamilton’s longer lasting medium tires. As a result, Verstappen pitted early forcing Hamilton to also pit but leaving Sergio Perez out on the track to defend Hamilton. Despite being on the same compound tires as Max, Hamilton finally caught up to Perez and was expected to make an easy pass but Perez defended like a lion. 

Perez held Hamilton up beautifully doing whatever he could to keep Hamilton behind him. Perez kept Hamilton behind him for a good 6-7 laps before finally pitting to change his old soft tires. Due to this, Verstappen was able to make up about 7 seconds on Hamilton with his new tires and after Perez pitted, Verstappen exclaimed on the team radio, “Checo [Perez] is a legend man!” 

However, as soon as Verstappen caught up to Lewis, the Mercedes driver was already extending his lead. Hamilton kept his lead for almost the whole race before lap 50, when everything changed. Further back in the field, Haas driver Mick Schumacher and Williams driver Nicholas Latifi were battling into turns 13 and 14 before Latifi lost control and smashed into the barrier, causing a safety car to come out and lead the cars around the track safely while the damaged Williams was being lifted off. Because of this, the gap between Verstappen and Hamilton was virtually gone, as normal racing couldn’t take place. 

With only a couple laps to go, it looked as if the race would finish under the safety car, meaning Hamilton would win his record 8th world championship passing the legendary Michael Schumacher. However, in a very controversial and last-minute decison, race director Michael Masi decided to let the overlapped cars between Verstappen and Hamilton overtake the safety car to give the competitors one clean lap of racing — a final lap to decide the championship. 

Under the safety car, Red Bull pitted Verstappen for a fresh pair of soft tires, while Mercedes elected to keep Hamilton out on the track for fear of giving up track position which would put Verstappen back in first place. 

However, this decision proved fatal for Hamilton and Mercedes, as Verstappen easily caught up with Hamilton due to his newer and fresher tires and overtook him on turn five, crossing the line as a 1st time world champion. It was an exhilarating end to one of the most exciting seasons in F1 History.