In the 1,297 racing laps that made up the 2021 Formula 1® season, only the last one mattered.
Just five laps after being 13 seconds behind and seemingly destined for a second-place finish in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Honda’s Max Verstappen suddenly found himself directly behind leader Lewis Hamilton with one lap to claim the Formula 1® World Championship.
Verstappen trailed at the start of the final lap but needed just three turns to slip inside of Hamilton and take the lead. The pair went wheel-to-wheel through the next handful of turns before Verstappen pulled away to claim the win and his first F1® crown.
The Red Bull Racing driver gave Honda its first Formula 1® World Championship since Ayrton Senna took the 1991 title and gave Honda 11 wins for the season, its most since 1988 (15).
Verstappen started on pole but quickly found himself behind Hamilton as the seven-time titlist held the lead despite going off course briefly to avoid a Turn 4 challenge from the polesitter. The Dutchman pitted out of second place on Lap 14 and Hamilton covered him one lap later, promoting the Honda of Sergio Perez to the lead, where he would spend the next six laps, fighting off Hamilton and allowing Verstappen to shave nearly eight seconds of his advantage.
A stop under a Lap 36 Virtual Safety Car period gave Verstappen fresh tires, but dropped him to nearly 20 seconds out the lead. He had closed to within 13 seconds with six laps to go when Nicholas Latifi provided salvation. Latifi’s crash brought out a Safety Car, bunching the field and eliminating Hamilton’s advantage.
Verstappen was able to move closer to Hamilton, but appeared to have five lapped cars between himself and the leader, as Race Control determined that they would not have time to move the lapped vehicles and still provide a green-flag lap to determine the race. But as the cars headed back around to the start of the final lap, the stewards allowed the lapped cars to pass the safety car, moving Verstappen directly behind Hamilton for the restart that would eventually give him his first championship.
The Scuderia AlphaTauri Hondas had the best result of their two-year existence as Yuki Tsunoda placed a career-high fourth while Pierre Gasly came home in fifth. Perez had a podium finish within his grasp in the final laps but was forced to retire before the last restart.
The victory and the championship ends Honda’s participation in Formula 1® competition after the manufacturer returned in 2015. Honda won 17 of 141 races in those seven seasons with 13 poles and 49 podium finishes. Overall, since entering F1® in 1964, Honda has won 89 races, six driver championships and six manufacturer championships.
Technical Director, Honda F1
“Honda started this current F1 project back in 2015 and from the very beginning, winning the championships was always our goal. We put a lot of effort into it, challenging ourselves every day as we strived to improve and now we have achieved our goal. It was unfortunate that we had to retire Checo from the race, after spotting an anomaly on his PU data, but until then he demonstrated great team-spirit, playing his part in the final result.
For Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda, both drivers performed well all weekend and Yuki’s fourth place finish is his best result of his rookie season. He really put together everything he learned this year and along with the usual strong drive from Pierre to get to fifth, this was the team’s best overall result of what has been an excellent year for them.
Unfortunately, we missed out on the Constructors’ title, but we are still happy that with Max we won the Drivers’. On behalf of Honda, I would like to thank everyone at Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri, as well as all the drivers we have worked with since 2015 and the fans who have always supported us. Our Formula 1 challenge has now finished with this race, but the experience we have gained will feed through to Honda’s future technologies and Honda will continue taking on new challenges in the future. To everyone in Formula 1, a final thank you.”
Managing Director, Honda F1
Today’s race marks the end of Honda’s F1 project. We came back into the sport in 2015 as a PU supplier, attracted by this very sophisticated hybrid PU technology. In this our last season we have been fighting with very strong rivals and we came out on top of the Formula 1 world. This is due to all the hard work from all our engineers and mechanics, not just those at the race track. They never gave up even in the most difficult times and made numerous technological breakthroughs along the way. We were able to prove the validity and effectiveness of our technology and the abilities of our workforce.
Of course, we could not have achieved these results without the major role played by our great partners, Red Bull Racing with whom we won the title and also Scuderia AlphaTauri who welcomed us with an open mind, allowing us to move forward together after a difficult three years. We should not forget McLaren, with whom this era started back in 2015 and all the drivers who have worked with us, always putting maximum effort into achieving the best possible results.
We can say this project has been a success as we leave the sport having helped Max Verstappen win the Drivers’ World Championship However, it might be considered an even greater success if it stays in the hearts and minds of our fans and serves as an example to them when they too have to face a great challenge. Honda now moves on to another challenge, aiming to be carbon neutral, making the best use of technologies and human resources developed in Formula 1®. Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri will continue to use a PU developed by Honda, while our company starts a new chapter and I hope the fans continue to support us. Once again, I’d like to thank everyone involved in this F1 project and the fans. Domo arigato
Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing Honda
Start 1st, Finish: 1st – 2021 F1 World Champion
“It feels incredible to be World Champion and I couldn’t have asked for a more insane last race of the year. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, from not really having a chance of winning until the last lap, everything came together, and we had to go for it. I kept saying to myself, I am just going to give it my all and I have until the end and that is what we did. Of course, with that safety car restart in the last lap we had the fresher tires but you still need to do the move – luckily it worked out.”
I want to say a big thank to Checo, because of his performance today, I won the Championship, he was driving his heart out for this Team. Today showed exactly what great teamwork is, he’s an amazing teammate. Mercedes won the Constructors’ and we won the Driver’s Championship so it really shows that throughout the whole year we pushed each other to the very end. Lewis is an amazing driver, there is no discussion about it. Of course, we had our moments throughout the season but I think you know that after everything we had an amazing fight this season and I think both teams gave it their all.”
Sergio Perez – Red Bull Racing Honda
Start: 4th, Finish: 15th
First of all, I’m extremely happy for Max and for this Team because they have worked so hard throughout the year and for many years. Max really deserves this Championship with the level he has driven at. I’m very happy to contribute to his title, he’s been a tremendous teammate and a great guy, I couldn’t be happier for him. Lewis was in control of the race and Max was 10 seconds or so behind so I am extremely happy I could do something to help the outcome.
I was on extremely old tires so there was not much I could do but I managed to take a couple of seconds of out of Lewis, which was critical and had an impact on the race. You don’t want to get involved in their Championship and their battle, they’ve worked so hard for to be in this moment, but this is my Team, I did that for my Team and for Max. I think finishing second was possible for me today with the way the race ended up concluding, but I had to retire because my car was not looking great and it could have ended up creating another safety car. It’s a shame in the end that we didn’t get the Constructions title, but I’m extremely happy with the job we’ve done this season.”
Pierre Gasly – Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Start: 12th, Finish: 5th
I’m extremely happy to finish in P5 today, it’s the best way to end this year. It’s been an incredible season, the most successful for us as a team in 15 years, we’ve scored a lot of points and there have been many highlights. We’ve focused on ourselves every single race and I think we’ve performed well this season, so I’m really proud of everyone. I’m really pleased for Max, we grew up racing together, we knew he would have been World Champion one day and he did it today. It’s well deserved and I’m also happy for Honda, after all the years of hard work they’ve managed to get this Championship in their final year.”
Yuki Tsunoda – Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Start: 8th, Finish: 4th (career-best result)
I’m so happy, what an incredible result to end the season with. I think overall this weekend the car has been really strong, I didn’t expect the race pace to be quite as good but in the end it has been a great day. It’s amazing to be finishing the season on such a high, it’s been a long journey getting back to this point, but I’ve really rebuilt my confidence and it’s great heading into the off-season with this incredible result. Huge congratulations to Max, it was such a tough battle throughout the season and I think he really deserved it today. I want to thank him also for giving this great result to Honda, as he’s given them the best way to celebrate their last year in F1.”