Max Verstappen has opened up on his mentality late on in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, and insists he was not prepared to give up despite the deficit he had to rival Sir Lewis Hamilton.
The pair entered the final round of 2021 level on points following a remarkable season of racing, and the Briton looked comfortably on course to secure his eighth world championship in the closing stages.
But when Williams’ Nicholas Latifi brought out the Safety Car with his crash, the “miracle” Christian Horner had previously said Red Bull needed arrived, and a pit stop for the 24-year-old left five lapped runners between him and Hamilton.
After some peculiar radio communication with Red Bull, race director Michael Masi reneged on an earlier call by permitting only the aforementioned five to traverse the Safety Car with one lap to go, putting Verstappen in position to snatch the title on the final lap of the race.
He got the decisive move done at Turn Five, epitomising the phenomenal late moves he has made throughout his career thus far.
“He didn’t expect me to overtake him there,” he said in new documentary by Viaplay.
“We had less downforce that weekend so we had more top speed, so I wanted to be up front because without DRS I can defend.
“Even if he had come alongside me he could never overtake me because of the top-speed advantage.
“With the grip I had, I went for that corner and defended those other corners.”
He recognises that the gap he had to Hamilton after his stop during the Virtual Safety Car, but maintains that he never gave up while trying to reduce the arrears to his rival.
“I knew I wouldn’t close an 11-second gap in five laps.
“But I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to give up now and drive slowly to the finish line. I’m going to give it my all to make it not look easy’.
“I wasn’t really happy at that moment.”
Verstappen has since be rewarded with a new contract that will reportedly earn him $250 million, and he will remain with the Milton Keynes squad until at least the end of 2028.
The Dutchman is excited to continue what has been a monumental journey.
“I love this team and last year was simply incredible,” he stated.
“Our goal since we came together in 2016 was to win the championship and we have done that, so now it’s about keeping the number one on the car long-term.”
Team principal Christian Horner is ecstatic with the new deal, and highlights the importance of having a driver of Verstappen’s quality around when they start manufacturing their own powertrains in 2026.
“To have Max signed with Oracle Red Bull Racing through to the end of 2028 is a real statement of intent,” he added.
“Our immediate focus is on retaining Max’s world championship title, but this deal also shows he is a part of the team’s long-term planning.
“With the Red Bull Powertrains division working towards the new engine regulations for 2026 we wanted to make sure we had the best driver on the grid secured for that car.”
Verstappen’s father, Jos, acknowledges the business that Red Bull has made over the winter with the acquisition of sponsorships from Oracle and By-Bit, and backs up Horner’s previous statement that F1 is more investable now than ever.
“You’ve all seen the big implications Red Bull has made this winter, and Formula One itself is on the rise,” he explained.
“I’m not saying it’s just because of Max, but he definitely plays a big role.
“Max deserves it too. He’s the best driver on the market right now.”
The 24-year-old has a clause in his current contract that allows him to leave should the team be unable to provide him with an adequately performing car, and rumours had once linked him with a move to Mercedes.
Following a tense 2021, Jos is now completely disenfranchised by Mercedes and Toto Wolff, and maintains that he and his son could not recreate the rapport with the Silver Arrows that they currently have with Red Bull.
“We’ve been with the team since 2016 and you can’t build that relationship anywhere else,” he stated.