Red Bull team boss Christian Horner is adamant that the controversy surrounding Max Verstappen’s title success in 2021 will be quickly forgotten, and that he is worthy of his maiden Formula 1 championship.
Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton were involved in numerous clashes during a tumultuous season in which the lead of the championship changed hands between the two on multiple occasions.
Their first major collision occurred at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone in July, before a nasty crash at the Italian Grand Prix saw their rivalry turn ever the more sour.
Verstappen would then push the seven-time world champion off the track at Turn 4 in Brazil, leading to controversy as the stewards opted not to punish him.
That weekend had already proven contentious, as Hamilton had been disqualified from qualifying ahead of the sprint race for a rear wing infringement, while Verstappen was fined for touching the Briton’s car in Parc Ferme.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix later in the year featured a bizarre collision when the Dutchman attempted to let the Mercedes driver pass, having pushed him off the circuit.
But the most controversial moment of the season arrived in the curtain-closer in Abu Dhabi.
The pair came into the final round level on points, meaning whomever would finish ahead would claim the title.
Hamilton overtook pole-sitter Verstappen on the opening lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and looked set to cruise to victory.
However, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi hit the wall at Turn 14 late in the race, bringing out the Safety Car.
Verstappen pitted for fresh tyres, while race leader Hamilton stayed out to maintain track position.
Race director Michael Masi made the odd decision only to allow the five lapped cars between the leaders to un-lap themselves, leaving the rest behind the Safety Car.
As such, Verstappen was able to take advantage of his much fresher tyres to pass Hamilton on the very last lap of the race.
The Brit immediately got on the radio to claim that the race had been “manipulated” by race control.
Queried as to whether the controversy marred Verstappen’s victory, Horner has said that everyone remembers the champion, not the circumstances.
“People in this business have such very short memories. We’ve even forgotten what happened [in the year]. It was such a long racing season. Max is absolutely a deserving world champion,” said Horner.
He also maintains that the title was won over the course of a full season, not just on the final lap in Abu Dhabi.
“When you look at the championship as a whole, of course, the events in Abu Dhabi drew an awful lot of comment but that happens in sport.
“We had a lot of bad luck last year, we got fortunate with a safety car, we made the right strategic calls, great strategy, great teamwork and great execution by Max, and we won the race.”
Regardless of the manner in which the title was won, the 48-year-old says that people will remember only that Verstappen was victorious.
“Time will move on. Max is a very deserving world champion, we are incredibly proud of that, and the history books will always show he is the 2021 world champion,” the Briton added.
Verstappen won 10 races and claimed 18 podiums en route to his maiden F1 crown, while Red Bull finished second in the Constructors’ Championship.