Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner has described the last few laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as 'very stressful', as he contemplated Max Verstappen losing the Driver's Championship after having led it for much of the year.
But a controversially-applied Safety Car period allowed Verstappen to catch and pass Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to win the race and snatch the title from under the Briton's nose.
Fans were in an uproar with the results as fans argued on social media for months as to who was right and wrong. Mercedes initially protested, then withdrew their request while Red Bull and Verstappen celebrated.
Hamilton fans were greeted with silence from the seven-time World Champion as he withdrew from social media, even refusing to attend the FIA's prize-giving ceremony where Verstappen was handed his 2022 World Drivers Championship trophy.
Speaking to the Cambridge Union, Horner spoke about the race and everything that happened that day.
It was a very stressful time for Horner
"Well, it felt pretty stressful," said Horner.
"I mean, for most of the race, I was thinking Mercedes had the upper hand, we'd qualified on pole.
"But Lewis pulling it away, he had the race under control, and, strategically, they did a couple of things where they didn't cover us."
With the race looking to be a straightforward Hamilton victory, after Mercedes had been strong in the previous races as well, Horner's thoughts turned to Verstappen, and how he would help pick him up if he lost the crown in the final race.
"I was thinking for days, we've gone through all this year, we've been so close, but to lose both championships, how am I going to pick Max up? What am I going to say to the team, how we're going to lift their spirits after a weekend like this?"
"We're going to need something from the racing gods"
But then, as the Safety Car was deployed to clear Nicholas Latifi's stricken Williams, the unexpected happened and changed the entire situation, a situation Horner describes as a 'gift from the racing Gods'.
"I think I was actually connected to the Sky F1 commentators, which is always an interesting experience," said Horner.
"They asked me how it was looking, and I said, 'Well, I think we're going to need something from the racing gods to turn this around, and then Nicholas Latifi turned up."
"I didn't realise I had a direct line, so I've got to make sure I use that again, and then suddenly everything changed, because we'd used Sergio Perez earlier in the race to make sure to try and back Lewis up to give Max a chance.
"And what that did was prevent Lewis from having a free pitstop, so it put Mercedes in a dilemma - do they pit, do they stay out?
"We had nothing to lose, so we pit. And then Max, with a new set of tyres on that last lap, it was all down to him."
Verstappen 'couldn't feel his braking foot'
But it wasn't as easy as Verstappen simply having new tyres and sailing past the Mercedes on the final lap. In fact, the Dutchman was suffering with cramp as he attempted the pass.
"What he didn't tell us, he told us after the race, was that while they were going around behind the Safety Car, because the way the drivers sit in the car there, their feet are six inches higher than their backside," said Horner.
"Sometimes the blood drains out of their legs if they're not keeping them busy, and they can get really bad cramps.
"Max got a massively bad cramp in his left leg, and he said 'I couldn't feel my braking foot. I didn't really mean to overtake Lewis there. But you know, I just went for the gap, and I hoped I could feel the brakes.'"
"Of course, he made it work. And then to achieve that result against the odds, to achieve that World Championship was a phenomenal feeling for the whole team, for him.
"After such an epic season, because it really went from the first race to the last race, like a heavyweight bout, it was incredibly, incredibly satisfying."
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