The battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in 2021 was closely fought. Mercedes and Red Bull did not give each other an inch on and off the track, leaving Verstappen and Hamilton exactly equal prior to the final race in Abu Dhabi.
The outcome, of course, is well known. Hamilton was headed for his eighth World Championship until Nicholas Latifi crashed in the closing stages and prompted a Safety Car. Race director Michael Masi decided to remove the cars with a lap gap between Hamilton and Verstappen, creating a one-lap shoot-out.
Verstappen, unlike Hamilton, had stopped for softs, overtook his rival at Turn 4. He managed to hang on to the lead for the rest of the lap, and with it took his first F1 title.
According to Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner, it was already an achievement that Verstappen could match Hamilton in 2021.
"That season was a heavyweight bout from the first race in Bahrain to the last race in Abu Dhabi," Horner told the podcast Secrets of Success.
"That was two drivers and two teams that raised themselves to probably levels they didn't know they had. For us to go into that final race, tied on points with Mercedes with Lewis was a huge achievement.
"I got the whole team together before the race and spoke to them all and said 'Guys, whatever happens today, we've had an incredible journey to get to where we are today and what will happen today will will happen but the most important thing is to go out there that we give our best and we enjoy it.'
"'Embrace your nerves because you're all going to be nervous, that pitstop becomes more important than it's ever been. But through the work and effort, it's not just about today, it's everything that you've done that 21 races preceding that that's put us in this position. So let's go out there, give it everything.'"
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Horner respectful of Hamilton
Horner agrees that things could have turned out very differently: "For a long part of the race. Things didn't look like they were going our way.
"But we took risks with pitstops and strategy, took an attacking route as opposed to a defensive route, because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
In the end, Verstappen would take the title by passing a disillusioned Hamilton on the final lap. Horner had great respect for the reaction of the Briton, who came out to congratulate him after the race.
"I felt the way that Lewis handled that disappointment after the race, hats off to him because again, he would have been even more disappointed," said Horner.
"Record breaking World Championship has just disappeared, but he handled himself with dignity and respect.
"I shook his hand in the drivers room after the race, and he had the good grace to say well done."
Horner believes Mercedes should have been more considerate to Hamilton during the Safety Car, given the amount of laps he already done on his set of tyres."A lot is made about the final lap, but Mercedes went into that race and they were quicker than us in the Grand Prix," said Horner.
"Lewis was able to manage the gap to Max pretty comfortably. But then they went very defensive, they went very conservative, and they left Lewis out on a set of tyres that were 43 laps old.
"So he was only ever at a Safety Car gonna be hugely exposed. I think in being defensive, they exposed themselves to the situation that unfolded."