‘I don’t care if people try to take the shine off it’: Verstappen fires back at Hamilton fans

Max Verstappen passed Sir Lewis Hamilton on the very last lap of the 2021 season to become champion last campaign.

Max Verstappen has dismissed any notion that he did not earn his world championship last season, and reiterated that he had his fair share of misfortune in 2021.

Verstappen went head-to-head with Sir Lewis Hamilton for title glory in what became a volatile rivalry as they collided on multiple occasions.

It was ultimately decided by a contentious Safety Car call by race director Michael Masi at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, with the Dutchman taking advantage to pass his rival on the very last lap to claim the crown.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Masi that the end of the race was “so not right,” and plenty of Hamilton fans have demanded that the 24-year-old be stripped of his title in favour of the Briton.

However, having claimed 10 wins and finished on the podium 18 times last year, Verstappen insists that he is well deserving of his success.

“I believe I deserve to be world champion,” he told the Daily Mail.

Hamilton congratulated the Red Bull driver immediately after the completion of the season finale before taking a lengthy spell away from social media to recuperate after a devastating loss, and the new world champion confirms that the pair did not message each other over the winter.

“No. There is no reason to. We haven’t seen each other since just after the end of the race. It is fine. We are racers and we move on,” he added.

While the end of the championship battle may have fallen fortuitously for the Dutchman, he reminds everyone of the misfortune that befell him on more than one occasion in 2021.

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“A championship is won over the season, right? Not because of the last lap. Some people just look at that race because of the tension building up around it and think the outcome was wrong,” he explained.

“But if you look at the year, the title would normally have been decided way earlier. It is just that I was taken out twice and had some bad luck with tyre blowouts.

“It came down to the last race because of all that misfortune. And look at the stats.

“That usually gives you a picture of how the season went.

“I can understand with how Abu Dhabi played out that he was upset and not happy with it but, as I say, you have to look at the championship in general.

“It was a crazy and epic season. I don’t care if people try to take the shine off it. It doesn’t matter. The losing side always will complain, but the winning side think about it differently.”

Masi has since been relieved of his duties as race director by new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, while a combination of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will take the reigns in race control this year.

They will receive support from a virtual control room and Herbie Blash, who served as deputy to Masi’s late predecessor Charlie Whiting for 20 seasons.

Verstappen feels great sympathy for the 44-year-old who is set to be repositioned within the FIA, and has messaged him personally to check up on him.

“What happened to Michael is very unfair.

“The FIA were pressurised into making a decision. I wrote a message to him about it.

“I said we didn’t always agree on everything but that’s racing.

“We always wanted to make the sport better as a whole. Nobody is perfect, but what was always brought up was that we needed to race. We needed that mindset and he had that.”

The 20-time race winner acknowledges the enormity of the task the Australian had to undertake after Whiting’s tragic passing, and maintains that all he really needed was the infrastructure that Wittich and Freitas will now have at their disposal.

“For Michael to jump in after Charlie was a difficult task,” he affirmed.

“Everyone needs help. I have the whole team around me. Maybe Michael needed more people around him but he never got the opportunity. They really put him in the ground.

“He appreciated my message. He got a few more.

“It was very fresh for him. I have had my moments with the stewards but at the end of the day you have to have respect for each other.

“You don’t always have to agree. The aim is to make the racing better, more exciting but also fair.”

The 24-year-old went on to describe the celebrations after his extraordinary title victory.

“That evening on the boat was crazy, but I went away later to Brazil and Miami for two and a half weeks, time not to think about Formula 1,” he revealed.

“But the problem was that I am involved in various group chats about simulator racing. I was trying not to think about F1 but the phone was going ping, ping, ping.’”

He then quickly realised that it was time to stop relaxing and start getting back in the title-winning shape of last year.

“I don’t mind enjoying food but you look at yourself in the mirror. I gained three or four kilos, less than usual actually over the winter,” he said.

“But you still see the difference in your body. I had love handles.

“When you have been one shape your whole life growing up, it is strange and you know it is time to start again, to get into training twice a day.”

1978 champion Mario Andretti has previously remarked that Verstappen’s pursuit of more titles will be easier now that he has claimed his first, but adding to the list of honours is not something the Dutchman is specifically thinking about.

“I will always want to win, but the desperate ‘must win’ is gone. It doesn’t mean I am less motivated. I have the same level of motivation, maybe more, to do it again, he explained.

‘It feels nice. It is a relaxation. There is less of a rush. I was already in my seventh season.

“I had never really had a shot at the title before. I had my first chance and, of course, I wanted desperately to do it.

“Winning a championship is one of those things that doesn’t happen often. It may never happen again, who knows?”

Puma have designed special gold shoes for Verstappen to wear in recognition of his champion status, and he intends to enjoy his time as the reigning world champion for as long as that lasts.

“Wearing the golden shoes is a way of celebrating a special moment. You have to enjoy it,” he equivocated.

He then recalled his father Jos, who scored two podium finishes in F1, pointing him in the direction of an F1 podium – he has since chased and achieved that dream.

“I remember when I was watching on TV when I was go-karting as a boy and there was a podium celebration and the national anthem was playing and my dad (former F1 driver Jos) said to me, ‘that’s where we need to go’, and I said ‘I’d like that,’” he added.

“Now I need some luck, the right car, to do it again.

“For now, I am happy.”

Verstappen will once more partner Sergio Perez at Red Bull this season, with the Mexican having played an integral role in his teammate’s success last season.