Newly crowned F1 world champion Max Verstappen has said he empathises with Sir Lewis Hamilton’s frustrations following the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but stressed that the seven-time world champion should “understand this is racing.”
Verstappen snatched the title on the last lap of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a controversial decision by race director Michael Masi to allow five lapped cars through following a late Safety Car.
When Williams’ Nicholas Latifi collided with the wall a handful of laps from the end, Mercedes decided against pitting Hamilton – concerned about track position in case the stewards were unable to restart the race.
Masi would then permit only the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to go through, allowing Verstappen – who had stopped for fresh soft tyres – to pass the Briton on the very last lap.
Verstappen concedes that it was a cruel way for Hamilton to be denied the title, but said that disappointment is simply part of the sport.
“Of course, I can understand that the first few days, after a race like that, you’re not happy. You should also understand this is racing and these things can happen to you,” Verstappen said at the FIA’s Prize-Giving Gala in Paris.
Amid rumours of Hamilton having little interest in continuing in the sport following the disappointment, Verstappen suggested that he should take heart from his previous accomplishments in Formula 1.
“I think he should just look back at what he has achieved, and that should give him a lot of comfort and that drive to keep on going. He is still trying to challenge for that eighth title, and he can do that again next year, so I don’t see any reason why to give up or stop now.”
Verstappen also stated that he has empathy, but not sympathy for the 36-year-old.
“No, I don’t feel sorry [for him] but I can understand it can be very painful. At the end of the day, that’s racing as well. You just have to keep fighting until the end and you know that in racing anything can happen.”
Verstappen pointed out the 2008 season, in which Hamilton passed Toyota’s Timo Glock at the final corner to beat Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to the championship.
“He also won a championship like that. I think he can understand as well.”
Asked if the Mercedes appeal, which was withdrawn on the morning of the gala, had gotten to his head, Verstappen said: “Not really, we were having a really good time as a team because we knew we won it on track.
“And there was a green light or a green flag [with the stewards’ verdict] and nobody could ever take that away from us, so I was in a good mood.”
Verstappen is now the first-ever Dutch F1 world champion, and is Red Bull’s first drivers’ champion since Sebastian Vettel in 2013.