How Hamilton and Verstappen’s battle evolved over the 2021 season
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s title battle ebbed and flowed throughout the 2021 season, the advantage see-sawing between the two drivers. But with Verstappen having been the driver to come out on top in the fight, we look at how the dynamics shifted between the Red Bull and Mercedes racer across the year.
1. Bahrain and Imola set the scene
Bahrain opened this season in electrifying manner, hosting a thrilling battle between the protagonists. Verstappen attempted to pry the lead off Hamilton but could not, and ended up just 0.745s off the winner.
We had to wait another three weeks for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix but it was worth it, a rain-soaked Imola race filled with all manner of drama. Hamilton started on pole but was pushed wide at the start by a dogged Verstappen, who led 61 laps to win and atone for the disappointment in Sakhir, as Hamilton slid off track in the rain before recovering to P2.
Verstappen: 43 points
Hamilton: 42 points
2. Missed opportunities in Baku
Verstappen led the standings going into Azerbaijan after winning in Monaco (where Hamilton was P7). At Baku, the Red Bull was dominant – right until a tyre issue caused a him to suffer a terrifying DNF.
On the long and winding street track, it was advantage Hamilton until the late restart, in which his hopes disappeared in a puff of smoke thanks to the 'brake magic' button. For the first and only race weekend in 2021, neither driver scored points.
Verstappen: 105 points
Hamilton: 101 points
3. Verstappen cleans up from France to Austria
Verstappen nailed the first triple-header of 2021, a hat-trick of wins beginning with a two-stop strategy in France – passing Hamilton with one lap left – before doubling up in Styria, where he led all 71 laps, and dominating once again at the same circuit in the Austrian GP.
Three consecutive wins, plus fastest laps in France and Austria meant Verstappen built up his healthiest lead of the season...
Verstappen: 182 points
Hamilton: 150 points
4. Chaos at Silverstone
The first-ever F1 Sprint saw Verstappen earn pole for the British Grand Prix and take three points – and then on Sunday, all hell broke loose.
The Silverstone race provided the first explosive flashpoint in the pair’s rivalry, when Hamilton attempted a pass through the inside of the fast Copse corner and contact sent Verstappen spinning hard into the barriers and out of the race. The Mercedes driver passed Charles Leclerc late on for victory.
The fallout, however, spiralled. And this rivalry would never be the same.
Verstappen: 185 points
Hamilton: 177 points
5. Verstappen loses out in Hungary before half-point Belgian GP
The war of words would continue to flow thick and fast after Hamilton's team mate Valtteri Bottas triggered a multi-car crash at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, sending Lando Norris into Verstappen – who left Hungary with just two points to Hamilton’s 18. Belgium, where Verstappen took pole, turned out to be a rain-shortened race and half-points were awarded – cutting Hamilton's eight-point lead to just three.
Hamilton: 202.5 points
Verstappen: 199.5 points
6. The Monza incident
Bottas took P1 in the second-ever Sprint to land pole for the Grand Prix, Hamilton having qualified fifth. On Lap 26, as Hamilton exited the pit lane alongside his rival, Verstappen refused to cede and the pair entered the opening chicane side-by-side.
Cue unforgettable scenes amid a spectacular collision – and the only one-two of the season, courtesy of McLaren.
Verstappen: 226.5 points
Hamilton: 221.5 points
7. High drama in Russia
Russia was the weekend in which Norris was denied a maiden victory in the dying moments, thanks to a late downpour, which saw Hamilton claim his 100th Grand Prix victory. Verstappen, who would start P20 with engine penalties, managed to limit the damage with a stunning recovery to P2 by the chequered flag.
Hamilton: 246.5 points
Verstappen: 244.5 points
8. Hamilton’s never-say-die weekend in Brazil
Verstappen's wins in the USA and Mexico City meant the title was slipping away from Hamilton. In Brazil, the fight seemed to be back on as Hamilton took P1 for the final Sprint of the season – and then a bombshell hit.
The Mercedes rear wing triggered a disqualification from qualifying, sending Hamilton to the back for the Sprint. Yet he pulled off a stunning recovery to P5 and, despite a five-place grid penalty for a new engine, won the Grand Prix from P10 on Sunday.
A true show of defiance from the defending champion after being sent to the back – and being infamously run wide at Turn 4 by Verstappen.
Verstappen: 332.5 points
Hamilton: 318.5 points
9. Things turn ugly in Saudi Arabia
Hamilton had the pace to win in Qatar and the gap was closing as the protagonists reached Saudi Arabia.
The Mercedes driver took pole, when Verstappen crashed at the final corner in qualifying. But Hamilton's dominant getaway at the start of the race came to naught when Mick Schumacher spun and crashed at Turn 23.
What followed was a no-holds-barred defensive display from the Dutchman, one that culminated in a heartstopping moment on Lap 37 when Verstappen slowed dramatically and was almost wiped out by a fast-closing Hamilton.
The whole race was filled with controversy – but the result meant the standings were level going into Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen: 369.5 points
Hamilton: 369.5 points
10. A last-lap move seals the title in Abu Dhabi
For the first time in nearly 50 years, the title frontrunners would enter the finale level on points. Verstappen took pole position at Yas Marina with a brilliant display but Hamilton would share the front row.
The defending champion leapt off the line and led but controversy followed at Turn 6 when Hamilton went off track to avoid/stay ahead of Verstappen – no action deemed necessary – and retained the lead.
Sergio Perez's heroic defending helped Verstappen close in on Lap 21 and the Dutchman was afforded a free stop during a Virtual Safety Car as a result – but the pace advantage was Hamilton's. He had victory in the bag.
In an ending fit for this most chaotic and captivating of seasons, that all changed when the Safety Car emerged late on, allowing Verstappen to pit again and attack Hamilton on the final lap of the season, the Dutchman passing at Turn 5 to close out victory and, with it, the 2021 drivers' title.
Verstappen: 395.5 points
Hamilton: 387.5 points