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Verstappen and Hamilton's gladiatorial finale caps the greatest F1 season of modern times – iNews

To have ended differently would have betrayed the greatest championship of modern times. Of course it had to go down to the final lap of a 22-race, nine-month season. Of course fortunes had to turn on an unforeseen variable that would change the course of history.
And of course there would have to be controversy. 
It ought, however, to be a matter of regret for Formula One that the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix should have to pass through a convoluted regulatory process to clarify the outcome four hours after the race concluded.
It might not be over yet with Mercedes serving notice of a further appeal against the ruling by the stewards, which they have 96 hours to trigger.
It was certainly unfortunate that Lewis Hamilton should lose a championship via the decision of the race director who changed his instructions in febrile circumstances. Nevertheless few would argue that Max Verstappen was not a worthy champion.
Hamilton was just five laps from an eighth drivers’ crown when Nicholas Latifi parked his Williams in a wall. Verstappen, who had been told by the Red Bull hierarchy that he needed a miracle to win, was suddenly in receipt of it.
Verstappen dived for fresh rubber knowing all he would need is one lap to have a crack at Hamilton’s ailing Mercedes nursing old tyres. And so it came to pass after the initial instruction not to let lapped drivers overtake the safety car was rescinded, sealing the fate of both.
What looked like a volte face by race director Michael Masi under protest from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner might be better interpreted as a distortion of the full picture, which led the Mercedes hierarchy to protest the result.
Masi’s only concerns were the safety of the marshals clearing the wreckage and making sure the track was fit for racing. Once it became clear the race could restart, he had no alternative but to instruct lapped cars to pass the safety car, which proved ruinous for Hamilton and joyous for Verstappen.
Mercedes protested on two grounds, that Verstappen had passed Hamilton under the safety car and that only five of the eight lapped drivers, those between Hamilton and Verstappen, actually passed the safety car before the restart. Both protests were dismissed.
Hamilton defended heroically on the restart but ultimately could not resist the tide of events that had so cruelly turned against him.
If we had not before grasped the true essence of Hamilton we did in an episode that would have crushed a lesser god. “First of all congratulations to Max,” he said as he wiped his brow in the immediacy of defeat. Hamilton must have felt like screaming at the fates like a banshee.
Yet there was no stamping of feet, no acrimony. Hamilton had to come from behind to take the season to the final race. He was probably rehearsing his victory speech at the point the world turned upside down. To lose from that position is a test as great as anyone could face.
But he did so with grace, which is the first requirement of a champion.
After communing with his son behind the garage, Hamilton’s father Anthony approached Verstappen and his old man Jos to shake the hands of both. The bear hug he offered Verstappen Snr was another stirring expression of the Corinthian code.
Oddly, love for Hamilton in this sport is not universal, but following this passage of post-race largesse he arguably gained more than he would have in victory. He really is the best of men. And in Verstappen he has at last met an adversary worthy of his attention.
Seven corners into the duel we had our first flash point. Verstappen up the inside, Hamilton, forced to take avoiding action, left the circuit and retained the lead as a result. It was a typically bold intervention by Verstappen that invited Hamilton to leave the road or crash, which would have given the former the title there and then. Hamilton slowed sufficiently to reset his advantage over Verstappen to what it had been before turn seven and the stewards were happy with that, seeing no need to investigate further.
When the lights went out Hamilton had the start of his dreams and was ahead into turn one. Verstappen had to regain the lost position to make the most of his softer, quicker tyres at the start of the race. The stewards clearly felt the lunge into the tight left hander was not entirely legitimate, forcing Hamilton into an action he would not have taken otherwise.
"Have a tiny drink…"

The first words from Max Verstappen live on @SkySportsNews after the stewards dismiss Mercedes' protests.#SkyF1 | #F1 | #AbuDhabiGP ???????? | @craigslatersky pic.twitter.com/4Ue3RtNkTD
And that was that. With 12 laps done Hamilton had pulled out a five second lead. The orange flags in the grandstands had stopped waving, and on the radio Verstappen was complaining about his rapidly degrading tyres.
Verstappen duly came in for fresh boots on lap 14, which in turn prompted Hamilton’s own stop one lap later. Hamilton had only to match Verstappen’s strategic calls to stay in front. Ahead of him though, was Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who did a stellar job in holding off Hamilton through two laps of wheel-to-wheel fencing.
“Checo is a legend,” said Verstappen, grateful for the assistance. “An absolute animal,” said Horner. The time lost amounted to eight seconds and brought Verstappen right back on Hamilton’s tail. There were still 36 laps to go. Hamilton had been here before, managing a title fight in the white heat of battle. He had faith in his car, trust in his tyres and knew that all things being equal, Verstappen just did not have the beans to make it count.
There is universal acceptance of Verstappen’s brilliance, at 24 the driver destined to be at the centre of things for next decade. He is praised for his blinding speed and commitment. In this celebration of Verstappen’s gifts it is easy to overlook what Hamilton was doing at the same age.
Not enough emphasis is given to Hamilton’s inaugural year arriving in Formula One as a callow GP2 champion. On debut in Australia he went passed team-mate Fernando Alonso, a double world champion brought to McLaren do deliver a first world driver’s title in eight years, into turn one. It proved to be a symbolic moment. The visceral, internecine struggle with the 23-year-old novice left Alonso a broken figure forced to seek refuge at Renault the following season.
Had Hamilton not suffered the bizarre decision-making of the McLaren pit wall that left him out on shot tyres in China, and had he avoided the mysterious mechanical problems that slowed him in Brazil, he and not Kimi Raikkonen would have been world champion in 2007, his first season in the sport.
Hamilton rebounded from that disappointment to build the greatest resume in grand prix racing. And he is not done yet, despite the enormous challenge presented by Formula One’s lavish new pin-up, Verstappen.
World drivers’ championship:

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