An emotional Max Verstappen described his journey to 2021 Formula One world champion as “insane” after he beat rival Lewis Hamilton in a last lap sprint for victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
“It’s just insane,” he said. “My goal when I was little was to be a Formula One driver. You dream of podiums and victories. But when they tell you that you are world champion, it’s incredible.”
Verstappen and Hamilton went into the last race level on points and it appeared that the Mercedes driver was going to hang on to win an eighth world title.
The intervention of a safety car four laps from the end, however, gave Verstappen the chance to take on Hamilton in a thrilling last lap charge to the line.
“It’s unbelievable,” said the 24-year-old Verstappen. “Throughout the whole race I kept fighting then there was the opportunity in the last lap, it’s incredible. I don’t know what to say. My team and Honda deserve it.”
Verstappen also thanked his teammate Sergio Perez, who played a key part in the win, and his Red Bull team.
“Finally a bit of luck for me. I also want to say thank you to Checo (Perez), he’s been a brilliant team-mate. My team know I love them. I hope we can do this for 10, 15 years together.
“I don’t want to change ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life, if they will have me. I’m so happy. Our goal was to win this championship when we came together and now we have done that.”
The race marked the end of an epic contest with seven-time champion Hamilton which has seen the two tangle on the track and off it.
“Lewis is an amazing driver, such a competitor. We had some tough times, that’s sport, everyone wants to win.”
Here are reactions to Vertstappen’s win:
(With inputs from AFP)