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How Abu Dhabi rocked the F1 world one year ago

The date of 12 December 2021 is one that holds an infamous place in the F1 history books, with the day proving to be a particularly memorable one for Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

It was one year ago today – on 12 December 2021 – that Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton arrived into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on equal points as both vied for the World Championship. For Verstappen, the achievement would mark his first title; for Hamilton, a place in the history books reckoned, given that the championship would be a record-breaking eighth for the Briton. After a fierce battle had played out throughout the campaign – with a further incident between the two drivers at the penultimate Grand Prix of the year in Saudi Arabia – tensions were high at the Yas Marina Circuit. Arguably, they ended up even higher afterwards following an infamous final few laps of the race, whereby a contentious Safety Car decision led to Verstappen overtaking Hamilton on the last lap and clinching the World Championship. The aftermath continued in the weeks and months that followed; an investigation was held by the FIA, Race Director Michael Masi eventually departed his role, while Hamilton disappeared from public view for some time, even leading to questions over whether he would return at all. One year on, the picture looks different after the 2022 season. Verstappen claimed his second title in dominant fashion and with less controversy, and Hamilton was absent from the championship fight thanks to Mercedes' struggles with their W13. But has F1 changed since that controversial day in Abu Dhabi?

What will the future bring?

While Formula 1 clearly looks different on 12 December 2022 than it did on the same day in 2021, this obviously cannot all be put down to the events of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. New technical regulations were introduced for the campaign, which Red Bull and Ferrari ultimately appeared to adapt better to than Mercedes. However, the Silver Arrows showed signs of progress as the year went on, so their prospects in 2023 could look a little stronger. Off-track, the social media storm sparked by the race – and the abuse aimed at Nicholas Latifi, whose crash in the latter stages of the event was the catalyst for that late Safety Car – perhaps contributed to the development of F1's Drive it Out initiative, with the goal of tackling any kind of abuse within the sport. Has Verstappen changed? Outwardly he does not appear to, but many close to him have spoken of a progression in his performance as a driver, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner amongst those to point to the Dutchman making "another step forward" in 2022. The question remains over whether this will continue into the future. Adrian Newey has suggested that continuing their momentum into the next season could prove "tough" for the Milton Keynes-based squad, who scored their first Constructors' Championship since 2013. Did the events of Abu Dhabi directly lead to Verstappen's growth as a driver – and subsequently his title success – in 2022? It is impossible to say, but it will certainly be interesting to see if he and the team can repeat their success in 2023 off the back of a much smoother championship victory.

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