Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out
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Nicholas Latifi has issued an apology for crashing to bring out the safety car during the closing stages of Sunday’s wildly controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Max Verstappen sealed his maiden Drivers’ Championship title at the expense of Lewis Hamilton in dramatic fashion, with the Dutchman passing his rival for the lead on the very last lap.
The 24-year-old played second fiddle to his Mercedes counterpart for the vast majority of proceedings but was given a route back into the contest when Latifi was forced to retire with five laps remaining.
The latter was pushed wide by Haas driver Mick Schumacher as they battled for position and ended up in the barriers after failing to wrestle his Williams car back under control.
The safety car was promptly deployed in order to allow the debris to be cleared from the track, with Verstappen closing up to Hamilton after stopping for a fresh set of soft tyres.
He was given a clear run at his Drivers’ Championship rival before the restart after FIA race director Michael Masi controversially allowed the five lapped cars between the pair to unlap themselves.
Verstappen went on to overtake Hamilton at the death after the safety car was eventually called in to facilitate one more lap of racing under green flags.
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Speaking after the race, Latifi insisted that he did not set out to partially decide the championship and apologised for his race-ending mistake which forced the safety car into action.
“It was never my intention and I can only apologise for intervening,” he told Motorsport-Total.com.
“I just made a mistake. I just didn’t have any grip in the corners after that [battle with Schumacher].
“The speed wasn’t that crazy and I didn’t hit the curb all the way, so it seemed okay. It was a difficult corner for me all weekend and now I made a mistake with dirty tires in the dirty air.
“Until then I didn’t know anything [about the championship fight]. Of course it was never my intention to influence that, but I made a mistake and ruined my own race.”
Latifi’s mishap was ultimately responsible for shaping the farcical scenes that followed, with Verstappen reaping the rewards of Masi’s contentious decision to clear his route to Hamilton under the safety car.
Mercedes quickly protested against the outcome of the race before their complaints were rejected by the FIA and the race stewards.
The Silver Arrows lodged notice of their intention to appeal on Sunday evening, with a final decision set to be made over the coming days.
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However, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was adamant that Masi handled things fairly, hailing his bravery in making the decisive call under pressure.
“It’s unheard of to leave the cars unlapped,” Horner told Sky Sports F1 after the end of the race.
“You could see they wanted to get the race going again and they don’t need to catch up to the back of the pack.
“They made absolutely the right call – difficult circumstances and they called it right.
“I’m just so proud of Max, so proud of the team for what we’ve been through and what we’ve achieved against some fierce and great opponents.”
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