As another year draws to an end, It’s hard not to reflect over what can only be described as one of the most memorable seasons in Formula One history, where a new driver was crowned champion of the world in one of the most captivating season finales in the sport’s history. It was Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen. Level on points for the first time in F1 history since 1974. The championship was poised so finely on a knife-edge, the smallest of margins were to decide the fate of these two title protagonists. But the season finale was merely a cherry on top of an extraordinary season, that would eventually see Verstappen beat Hamilton to the title, but not even that was as straightforward as it sounds.
AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX – The restart everyone was talking about
If you think back to the start of the season, you’ll remember the race in Baku, round six of the F1 season.
With five laps to go, Verstappen was leading the race when his left-rear tyre exploded, catapulting the championship leader into the wall at 200 mph.
But the drama didn’t end there. The crash brought out the red flag for essentially a two-lap sprint race to the chequered flag.
Already locked in a championship battle with the Dutchman, Hamilton initially seemed to control the standing restart launching into the lead, before locking up at Turn 1.
It sent him flying down the escape road, tumbling down the order to finish P15, on a weekend he had the chance to take the lead of the championship back from Verstappen.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff admitted the seven-time world champion accidentally pressed a ‘magic button’ on his steering wheel that alters brake balance.
Hamilton went on to recover and win the race, with Verstappen clinging on to his second-place finish despite a second time penalty added on, this time 10 seconds.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX – The duel in the desert
With the duo locking horns all season it seemed only fitting we headed into the finale with the pair level on 369.5 points.
With five laps remaining, Hamilton had driven a commanding race to build up a 10-second lead over Verstappen, before a safety car was deployed with Nicolas Latifi’s Williams in the wall.
FIA race director Michael Masi initially told teams no one would be allowed to pass the leader and the safety car to un-lap themselves after many, including Verstappen, elected to change tyres.
Hamilton remained out on old, hard tyres, as Mercedes couldn’t risk losing the lead of the race with laps ticking by.
Yet the confusion came after Masi then changed his mind and allowed the five cars that were between Hamilton and Verstappen to clear the way for the title battle to resume, but didn’t give the entire field enough time to do the same before the race restarted.
The last-lap sprint was always going to favour Verstappen on fresher tyres, who pounced on Hamilton to take the lead of the race and therefore win the title.
But the story didn’t end there as Mercedes were left furious and immediately lodged two protests which were dismissed by the stewards before deciding against pushing for further action.
The result was finally secured a few days later as Verstappen was crowned champion at the FIA prize-giving gala the Thursday after the race.
However, there were a few other stand-out moments from the season that deserve a mention.
Norris pinpoints two ways Verstappen beat Hamilton to F1 title
Jos Verstappen explains what Lewis Hamilton’s father did after F1 pain
Nico Rosberg explains ‘rumour’ he’s heard about Lewis Hamilton
EMILIA ROMAGNA GRAND PRIX – Old vs new
Cast your mind back to round two of the championship, when it was still just a rumour that George Russell would be replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.
The pair however were left fuming at each other after a high impact crash at Tamburello as the Mercedes driver defended his line into the corner.
The two touched and were sent spinning into the barriers, ruining both races for the drivers, with both blaming the other driver for the shunt.
Russell and Bottas seemed to have a heated exchange at the side of the track, with the Briton left furiously ranting to the media afterwards.
Russell was quick to apologise for his actions with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff eventually forgiving the 24-year-old by handing him the seat alongside Hamilton for 2022.
RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX – Heartbreak for Norris
Mclaren’s Lando Norris grabbed a maiden pole position with McLaren at the Russian Grand Prix and was on course to win his first-ever Formula One race at the age of 21.
But heartbreak followed as the rain started to fall in the closing moments of the race.
All drivers were on the wrong tyres for the deluge of rain that followed, with Norris the only driver opting to stay out on the slick tyres with his a handful of laps remaining as Hamilton was close on his tail, adding pressure on the young driver.
Hamilton initially opted to stay out before he dove into the pits with the conditions worsening.
But the gamble did not pay off for Norris, who struggled to keep a handle on the sliding McLaren, which eventually ran so wide, the 21-year-old had no choice but to dive into the pits, surrendering a maiden win in Formula One.
Norris was left fighting tears afterwards, as Hamilton ultimately went on to win the race.