Max Verstappen faces nervous wait for confirmation of title success

Max Verstappen faces a nervous wait to see if his maiden Formula One world championship would be taken away as Mercedes lodged an appeal against his last-lap victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver stormed past title rival Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of the season-ending race at the Yas Marina Circuit, having benefited from a late safety car that bunched up the pack.

Hamilton appeared to be charging to glory, easily holding Verstappen at bay in the closing laps, only for a crash for the Williams of Nicholas Latifi to change the course of events.

Confusion reigned as under-fire race director Michael Masi changed his mind to allow lapped cars to pass the safety car – meaning Verstappen had a clear run at Hamilton in the final lap and on much faster tyres.

The Dutchman broke into tears as he crossed the line, professing his love for his team and sitting by his car after bringing it to a stop.

His reign, however, could be short-lived as Mercedes immediately launched two appeals against the result of the race. One against Verstappen for allegedly overtaking under a safety car and a second claiming a breach of rules regarding race restarts following a safety car period.

“This is unbelievable guys. Can we do this for another 10 to 15 years together,” Verstappen said on the radio – he may be waiting almost as long to discover if this hard-fought championship is actually his.

“I think it also sums up a little bit this season,” he replied when asked about the Mercedes appeals.

Representatives from both teams spent 45 minutes with the stewards, taking a short break before heading back to the room to continue the appeals process.

Hamilton had looked on course for a record eighth championship after passing pole sitter Verstappen off the line.

The Brit started alongside his fellow title protagonist on the front row and was quicker off the mark, leading the race into turn one of the reconfigured track.

Those alterations were made to improve overtaking and Verstappen attempted to take full advantage of the widening of the hairpin at turn seven as he lunged to try to regain his lead.

Hamilton went off the track as a result, rejoining having missed the turn. However, it was deemed he had no penalty to answer for as a season punctuated by collisions, near-misses and contradicting stewarding calls looked set for another twist.

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Lewis Hamilton started strongly but finished frustrated (AP)

The near-miss was a reminder for Hamilton that he needed to avoid further incidents, aware that if he and Verstappen were both not to finish the race then the title would go to his adversary by virtue of more wins over the season.

He was not to have it all his own way, however, as he came into the pits on lap 15 to avoid being undercut by Verstappen but emerged behind the sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez – who was given instructions to hold up Hamilton.

The Mexican did just that, costing Hamilton more than six seconds as they tussled for the lead, Verstappen closing in and praising his team-mate as a “legend” over the radio.

Once clear, though, Hamilton once again showed his outright pace to start rebuilding the gap he had lost stuck behind Perez.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitted the team needed a “miracle” with the gap at 11 seconds with 10 laps remaining – and they got one when Latifi crashed into the barriers. It brought out a safety car with just five laps remaining and Verstappen stopped for a third time and got new tyres.

Time, however, appeared to be on Hamilton’s side as the laps ticked down behind the safety car and Masi opted to keep the five lapped cars between the leader and Verstappen in place.

He then changed tack, sending the quintet past Hamilton and the safety car meaning there was nothing between the title rivals as the pace car peeled off with just a single lap remaining.

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Spectators react to Max Verstappen’s victory (AP)

Verstappen was ready to pounce and sprung, although Hamilton did battle back until he had nothing left to give.

As the unbelievable action unfurled on track, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff fumed at Masi over the radio for his change in decision.

The two drivers shared a fist pump as they met ahead of the podium but with further messages broadcast from Wolff, whose team immediately set about getting the result overturned.