Stoffel Vandoorne has said that Max Verstappen, a neighbour of his in Monte Carlo, admitted that the intensity of the title fight with Lewis Hamilton got to him for the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
While Verstappen won out after a late Safety Car allowed him to change tyres and close the gap on leader Hamilton, the pressure in the build-up to the race as the two drivers were level on points was a unique situation for Verstappen, as it was his first title showdown.
Vandoorne said that he spoke with Verstappen in the days after the race.
"I saw him a few days after Abu Dhabi," Vandoorne told Belgium's RTBF.
"He confessed to me that, usually, he never feels pressure but, at the last Grand Prix, it was the first time in his career that he felt the pressure - so intense.
"In any case, he was super happy, because he sacrificed so much to get there. He fully deserves his title of World Champion when you see the step forward that he and Red Bull have taken.
"Look at Max's season; he's had three big point losses. Without that, he probably would have been champion sooner."
"One of the best ever F1 seasons"
Vandoorne, who remains one of Mercedes' reserve drivers for F1 as well as racing for the marque in Formula E, enthused about the 2021 season as a whole, saying that the Verstappen and Hamilton rivalry led to gripping viewing.
"We had one of the best F1 seasons of all time," he said.
"Every weekend, it was Max against Lewis and this opposition which brought the same two drivers face to face every week, it created a great story.
"Everyone was just talking about it - there was gigantic pressure. Verstappen and Hamilton were on a different planet this year. Both deserved the title."
With the regulations completely reset for 2022, Vandoorne didn't dare to make any predictions on whether the battle might continue for next season.
"2022 is a bit of the unknown," he went on to comment.
"Generally, regulatory changes modify the performance and the differences between the teams. There are many questions because we do not know where the teams are, especially with a 2021 season so intense.
"We don't know when the teams 'turned the switch' and focused their efforts on developing their 2022 single-seater, and we all know that in Formula 1, a few weeks of difference can have an impact on the whole season."
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