Christian Horner believes that Max Verstappen caught Lewis Hamilton by surprise when he made his title-deciding overtake on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The championship all came down to the controversial closing stages of the race after a Safety Car was called five laps from the end. Red Bull opted to pit Verstappen for a fresh set of Soft tyres, whilst Hamilton remained on track in the lead running older, Hard tyres. When the decision was made to restart the race with just one lap remaining - and with the five cars between Verstappen and Hamilton allowed to unlap themselves - Verstappen was able to catch up to Hamilton and get ahead, meaning that he not only won the Grand Prix but also clinched the World Championship.
Horner is full of praise for the way in which Verstappen overtook Hamilton, a move that he thinks was "classic Verstappen". "Naturally, we're going to roll the dice and go for it," Horner told The Telegraph . "Max just refused to give up. You didn't hear him moaning on the radio. Every lap, he drove his heart out, then suddenly a chance presented itself. "When you look at his pass at Turn 5, I don't think Lewis was expecting him to go through there. He didn't even defend. He was waiting for him more into Turn 6, but Max took him by surprise. Classic Verstappen."
Verstappen a deserving champion
Verstappen's debut F1 title might have been secured in controversial style, but Horner thinks that the Dutchman's performances throughout the season highlight his worthiness as a champion. "Even entering that weekend, I felt Max deserved it for how he had driven, how he had applied himself, how he had kept fighting under the most intense pressure and scrutiny - even when he didn't have, in the second half of the year, the best car," Horner explained. Whilst Mercedes have voiced their displeasure with how the rules were applied during the Safety Car period of the race, Horner feels that focusing on Hamilton narrowly missing out on the championship ignores the bigger picture in terms of how the whole year played out. "You can't examine incidents in isolation," the Red Bull Team Principal said. "So many decisions had gone against us. Even at the beginning of the race in Abu Dhabi, no penalty was given to Hamilton for cutting the chicane. "Lots of people have said that Lewis was a sitting duck in Abu Dhabi. But tactically, Mercedes made an error. They had the choice to pit, they chose not to, and they left him in that situation."