After a truly action-packed, tense year, the 2021 Formula One World Championship drew to a close last night at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Defending seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton ultimately lost out to rival Max Verstappen on the last lap of the last race of the season, with the pair finishing 1-2 after heading into the race dead even on points.
In many ways, it’s the end of an era. The unrivalled dominance of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton has had few parallels in international sport, let alone motorsport. Hamilton was on the cusp of a record eight Driver’s Championships: he already holds the records for most career wins, points and pole positions, among myriad other achievements, but this would have been the crowning glory.
To suggest that Hamilton would be crushed would be to make the understatement of the century. But without delving into the politics and intricacies of Verstappen’s win – or the season that was more broadly – we just want to take the time to recognise (one of the many reasons) why Hamilton will go down as the Greatest Of All Time: his impeccable sportsmanship.
Despite being shattered both physically and emotionally, Hamilton very promptly went over and congratulated Verstappen on his win after getting out of his car at parc fermé. Hamilton’s dad, Anthony Hamilton, also made the point of congratulating Verstappen. Indeed, both Hamiltons went over and also congratulated Verstappen’s dad, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.
Hamilton was also incredibly gracious and composed during his speech before heading up to the podium, showing grace under fire that we doubt Verstappen would have been capable of if the tables had been turned (sorry Max, we love you, but let’s be real here).
“A big congratulations to Max and to his team,” Hamilton said during his post-race interview. “I think we did an amazing job this year. My team, everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, and here, have worked so hard this whole year. It has been the most difficult of seasons. I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be part of the journey with them.”
“We gave it everything. This last part of the season we gave it absolutely everything and we never gave up and that’s the most important thing.”
Hamilton’s behaviour has been widely applauded by F1 fans, pundits and celebrities alike. “Lewis Hamilton is a supreme competitor, who gave absolutely everything against a worthy champion in Max Verstappen in a sport riddled with risk. Hamilton’s grace in defeat underlines what a sporting legend and role model he is,” The Times’ chief football writer Henry Winter relates.
Even veteran motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson, who’s never held back in his criticism of Hamilton, was impressed by his decorum, calling him “very very dignified”.
Even if you don’t like him, it’s hard to fault Hamilton’s status as a positive role model – beyond good sportsmanship. The first and only Black driver in F1 history, Hamilton has become a conscientious advocate against racism, as well as for human, environmental and animal rights. F1 couldn’t ask for a better global ambassador.
Hamilton’s not going anywhere: he might have lost the 2021 title but he’ll be back again next year, undoubtedly with extra fire in his belly. Until then, Verstappen has some pretty huge shoes to fill. Hopefully, he can rise to the occasion.