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Lewis Hamilton

How Hamilton won and lost an F1 world title on the final lap

Lewis Hamilton now has the unique statistic of winning and losing a World Championship on the final lap of a title showdown.

Article
To news overview © McLaren

With Lewis Hamilton missing out on the 2021 F1 Drivers' Championship, after Max Verstappen overtook him on the last lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it means he is in a unique position as the only driver to have won and lost a title due to the events of the last lap of the last race.

Back in 2008, Hamilton not only won his maiden title by getting into the position he needed on the final lap, but he did it at the final corner...

Victory: Brazil 2008

Hamilton's first World Championship was won in extraordinary circumstances, with the McLaren driver claiming the position he needed at the last corner of the last lap of the last race in the season.

The 2008 campaign had been hugely dramatic, with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen not quite able to keep up the form he'd shown to claim his title in 2007. As a result, the Ferrari title charge was led by Felipe Massa, with the Brazilian taking on McLaren and Hamilton.

Hamilton had led the championship table by seven points heading to Interlagos, but Massa was simply untouchable over the entire weekend at home in front of his fans.

Massa put his Ferrari on pole position, with Hamilton only managing fourth place behind Raikkonen and Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Fourth would still have been enough to clinch the title, regardless of what Massa managed up front, but the race would prove to be anything but straightforward.

Massa completely dominated on Sunday, mastering the wet to dry conditions at the start, while Hamilton got bogged down in battling with Raikkonen, falling behind Renault's Fernando Alonso through the pit-stop sequence, and coming under increasing pressure from behind as Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel enjoyed the conditions.

It was in the closing stages of the race that all hell broke loose. With the rain intensifying, most of the front-runners came in to swap to the Intermediate tyre. That was all apart from Toyota's Timo Glock. The German driver had been fuelled to the finish during his earlier stop, and he opted to try bringing his car home without making a stop for Intermediates.

A mistake from Hamilton allowed the pursuing Vettel through to take fifth place - the very position that Hamilton needed in order to clinch the title.

His error meant that, as the drivers started their final lap, Hamilton was down in sixth and would lose the title to Massa as Glock appeared to be making his dry tyre gamble work. But with the rain intensifying, Glock's pace dramatically fell away.

Massa crossed the line to win the race as his home crowd, and his Ferrari team, celebrated in exhilaration at claiming a title that hadn't looked particularly likely. With Hamilton still in sixth, it appeared that the most unlikely of results would actually happen and end in a fairytale triumph for Massa.

But Glock was struggling. Reaching the final corner of the race, the Juncao bend that precedes the power up the straight to the finish line, Hamilton dived past the slowing Toyota as the rain reached a critical point to prevent Glock from having any confidence on his slick tyres.

Hamilton accelerated across the line to take fifth, finishing the race almost 40 seconds behind Massa, and ensuring an extra point that meant the title was instantly snatched back from Ferrari. It had looked as though Hamilton had thrown the title away, which would have added to the misery of defeat to Raikkonen in 2007, only for him to wrest it back in the last 30 seconds of the season.

Defeat: Abu Dhabi 2021

Hamilton's heartbreaking defeat in Abu Dhabi came at the end of a hugely tumultuous season of racing against Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

The duo dominated Formula 1 in 2021, winning all but three of the Grands Prix between them as they divvied up the victories.

With the momentum of the title fight swinging back and forth between Verstappen and Hamilton, it was Mercedes which nailed the sweet spot with their W12 for the final handful of races. This allowed Hamilton to claim three wins in a row in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to set up a barnstorming finish in Abu Dhabi.

Heading to the season finale level on points, albeit with Verstappen ahead by dint of having one extra race victory, the race was finely poised as Verstappen put in a superb lap in the final part of qualifying to take pole position by an emphatic four-tenths of a second.

However, there was a strategy battle expected as Verstappen started on the Softs ahead of Hamilton on the Medium compound - how would the race play out if Verstappen could pull away early on and exploit his tyre advantage?

Instead, Hamilton nailed his start while Verstappen bogged down. Hamilton was able to sail into the lead and, despite a concerted effort from Verstappen on the back straight, finished Lap 1 of 58 as the leader and set about pulling away.

Hamilton then controlled the race throughout, shadowing the early pit-stop from Verstappen and utilising his superior race pace to edge out his lead to more than 10 seconds.

But an incident on Lap 53 changed the complexion of the race, as Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams in the final sector of the lap. The Safety Car was deployed and Mercedes were completely hamstrung. With five laps remaining, would the race finish under Safety Car or not?

If they pitted Hamilton from the lead, he'd come out in second and with no guarantee of the race resuming. If they didn't pit, Verstappen would, and the Safety Car would close the two back up again with Verstappen now on fresher tyres and the possibility of the race resuming.

Mercedes didn't pit Hamilton, while Red Bull rolled the dice by calling Verstappen in for some Soft tyres. With no one in the vicinity threatening Verstappen's position, he came back out in second and slotted in behind the now very worried Hamilton. Would the race resume? The laps ticked away... was there to be a sting in the tail?

On Lap 57, with just one lap remaining, the call was made. Race Director Michael Masi instructed the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves and brought the Safety Car back in. One lap of racing would decide the title, but it was very much advantage Verstappen on his fresher tyres.

Moments later, Verstappen used his Soft tyres to make a move on Hamilton and seize the lead, ducking and weaving down the next two straights to fend off his desperate rival. It proved futile, as the pair reached Turn 9 and Verstappen used his much fresher tyres to sail unaccosted through the rest of the lap and across the finish line to take the win.

Having experienced the elation of being on the right side of fortune in 2008, it was Hamilton's turn to experience anguish on this occasion. Just like Massa in 2008, Hamilton had title glory in his sights, only to have it snatched away at the very last moment of the year's action. It takes a character of strong will and perseverance to bounce back from such body punches.

Massa managed it for 2009, and there's no doubt that Hamilton will return next season, steely-eyed and determined to take back the crown.

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