Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has promised Nicholas Latifi a “lifetime supply” of the energy drink after the Williams driver’s crash paved the way for Max Verstappen’s remarkable F1 title victory.
Verstappen overtook championship rival Lewis Hamilton on the last lap in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, after the safety car had been deployed with five laps to go in the race.
The safety car had been brought out because Latifi had crashed his Williams and come to a standstill trackside.
Huge drama as Nicholas Latifi goes into the barriers – he reports that he is ok
But the Safety Car comes out and Max Verstappen immediately goes into the pits for some fresh tyres
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
The situation allowed Red Bull racer Verstappen to come into the pits for fresh tires while Mercedes kept Hamilton out on his worn versions.
The Dutch title challenger was given a clear run at Hamilton after race officials ruled that lapped drivers between the Mercedes and Red Bull cars would have to move.
Verstappen took full advantage after the safety car departed, overtaking Hamilton on turn five of the final lap and holding off the Brit to seal a maiden world title.
MAX VERSTAPPEN. WORLD CHAMPION!!!
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2021
The remarkable drama meant that thanks to his crash, Latifi had emerged as an unlikely protagonist in the title race – as either a hero or villain, depending on who you support.
Red Bull boss Horner was certainly thankful, telling Channel 4 after the race: “He’ll be getting a lifetime supply of Red Bull for sure.”
“We needed something from the racing gods in the last 10 laps,” Horner added to Sky Sports.
“Thank you, Nicholas Latifi, for that safety car. I have to say with the stewards… they did great to get the race going again.
“We were screaming at (race director Michael Masi) ‘let them race’. It has been an insane competition and for Max to win the world championship – it is not just about here.
“I have to say all credit to Lewis, he has been a phenomenal opponent all year, he is a great champion and that is what makes it even more valid to win this.”
Hamilton was graceful in defeat as he congratulated Verstappen and Red Bull, although his Mercedes team lodged two protests in the wake of the controversial conclusion to the season.
One complaint focused on an overtake by Verstappen when the safety car was out, while the second concerned the decision for lapped cars to be able to ‘un-lap’ themselves and move to the back of the pack.
Five lapped cars did so during the safety car period, and crucially they were the ones between Hamilton and Verstappen, meaning the Dutchman no longer had to weave through them to get to his target.
However, three cars further back did not un-lap themselves, leading Mercedes to argue that the race should not have restarted when it did – and effectively meaning Hamilton should be declared the winner based on track positions for the penultimate lap.
After tense deliberations of several hours, officials at the FIA dismissed both protests as Verstappen was confirmed world champion.
Mercedes have already announced their intention to appeal the decision, and could even go as far as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 12, 2021
Verstappen, 24, became the first Dutchman ever to win an F1 world title and is the first Red Bull driver to do so since Sebastian Vettel back in 2013.
Hamilton, 36, remains on seven world championships overall – level at the top of the all-time standings with German legend Michael Schumacher.
Somewhat ironically, it was Schumacher’s son, Mick, who was battling in his Haas with Latifi when the Canadian crashed, causing the use of the safety car and the controversy that followed.