Two forgotten details of Verstappen’s winning lap
Two elements from Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen’s last grand prix in 2021 would have been eye-catching if the title-maker’s circumstances weren’t so controversial.
The aftermath of the season was dominated by the debate over the FIA’s intervention at the end of the race with the safety car restart procedure and Mercedes’ now-abandoned court challenge after this intervention denied Lewis the title. Hamilton.
Attention has rightly been drawn to the uncontrollable way in which race director Michael Masi has chosen to end the safety car period and organize the penalties on the last lap for the title.
Hamilton remained exceptionally vulnerable for this restart as he was on old hard tires while Verstappen was able to switch to fresh soft tires without sacrificing his position on the track.
The specific details of how this round unfolded were overshadowed as they were the consequence of a much larger influencing factor.
Two of those details – Verstappen’s unusual tension and his winning pass – have been reduced to interesting footnotes, but they’re interesting nonetheless.
The first is that Verstappen was unusually nervous. And that ultimately manifested in the last round cramp that you may have heard him talk about in almost every interview he’s done since becoming champion.
While it’s understandable for a pilot to be nervous for the biggest day of his career, this is a conflict with the ultra-cool Verstappen character, not to mention something he would normally admit.
Usually his race-to-race approach helps a lot to stay calm and not get carried away, but he later admitted that it was “a pretty nervous day”. This led to one last physically painful ride.
In a lengthy interview published at the end of this week by his sponsor CarNext, Verstappen said: “Normally I am not at all nervous for any race. But I was.
“My mom is always nervous, no matter if I’m doing qualifying or a race, she always has to go to the bathroom several times during the race! But everyone was tense.
“Everything changed in the last lap. And this last round for me, you see me making the move – but I had this cramp.
“So the whole time when I was going at full throttle, I hardly could go at full throttle, because my leg was like… it was really, really painful.
“You’re just very tense, so your muscles contract. And yes, it was very hard.
Verstappen passed Hamilton on the last lap!
– Formula 1 (@ F1) December 12, 2021
With what was at stake, Verstappen’s calf muscle might have needed to snap completely in half to keep him from coming down the back straights.
At that point, he was defending Hamilton after making a surprise move from a good path in the hairpin of Turn 5.
Going so early in the lap – and before two long straights – left Verstappen vulnerable to a response and surprised many.
This included his father Jos, who admitted in the same interview alongside his son that he thought, “Why over there ?! Because then you have two straight lines after that.
“So I thought he was lining up to pass him at the end of the straight. But it happened there. I think a lot of people were surprised.
But the new world champion had a clear reading of the situation.
Starting that last lap on softs he knew he would have better cornering performance and traction than Hamilton and he was set up by the team to have a full display of Honda power in the back straights.
He also knew he had an added weapon in the form of Red Bull’s low downforce setup, which won him pole on Saturday before a slow start cost him his head.
For Verstappen himself, launching the attack on Hamilton at Turn 5 – where the Mercedes driver didn’t defend himself – was a simple calculation.
“I knew I had better top speed,” he said. “So I was like, ‘as soon as I’m in front, then I can control the defense.’
“Because when you’re late you can always close the door and you’re not totally in control.
“So it’s like, ‘I have to send it over there. And then I’m in control ”.
It would be wrong to overplay the move itself as Verstappen had a huge advantage over Hamilton, so the most impressive thing about it is Verstappen’s clarity of thought.
He was not going to refuse the opportunity presented to him but still only had one lap to pass and chose to take control as soon as possible.
Oddly enough, the first ‘massive cramp’ Verstappen suffered in Turns 2 and 3 behind Hamilton also meant that the winning move offered a moment of respite: “I was glad there was Turn 5, so I could brake and relax for a few seconds. . “
As his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase asked him to “press and hold the pass” into the next straight, Verstappen said he had to “bite through” and fend off Hamilton’s fiery attempt to regain the place despite his tire disadvantage.
“It was very cool, very eventful,” said Verstappen. “That sums up the whole season: completely unpredictable and crazy throughout.”