With Sir Lewis Hamilton comfortably leading much of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, Red Bull needed to find a way to swing the tide. Cue some Sergio Perez heroism.
The Red Bull driver was kept out longer by his team and was deployed to hold Hamilton up in a bid to bring his team-mate, Max Verstappen, back into play.
Perez defended his position on Laps 20 and 21, placing Hamilton just one second ahead of Verstappen following their first stop of the race.
In the end, a late Safety Car and a controversial lapped car protocol aided Verstappen to pass Hamilton on the final lap to claim his first F1 World Championship.
Perez’s defensive moves ultimately denied Hamilton a free pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car and the deciding full Safety Car, putting Verstappen on superior tyres for the final lap.
Verstappen called Perez a “legend” on the radio, while Formula 1 journalist Will Buxton took to Twitter to appreciate Perez’s teamwork: “The Red Bull just doesn’t look like it’s got the race pace to keep up with Mercedes as Verstappen slips back again but my word what an incredible piece of defensive driving from Perez. Sensational.”
Former Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais, however, was not at all impressed with Perez’s defending, nor with Buxton’s approval of it.
“I thought you loved racing,” the Frenchman replied to Buxton, adding “that was BS. I can’t begin to understand how Perez can be happy with himself and how people applaud him for what he did. Purposely slowing down and using every dirty trick to impede Hamilton. Zero sportsmanship, from the whole team really.”
On the other side of the debate, Bernie Ecclestone has condemned Mercedes’ “bullying” of Verstappen, saying that ”at a very young age, he is already up against Lewis Hamilton, one of the best drivers ever.
“And that while the Mercedes team has gone out of its way to bully him, to upset him. Mercedes also has the best car.
“That makes Verstappen’s performance even more valuable. He makes the difference in the race.”
Mercedes have lodged their intention to appeal the result of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, meaning Verstappen’s first world title may yet become Hamilton’s eighth instead.