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F1 champion Max Verstappen on emotional victory, Honda's exit and Mercedes' protests

We talk to the new F1 champ about his big win last weekend and more.

Max Verstappen
Verstappen is the first Dutch world champion and he's ready to add more to his name.
Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen clinched the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship this weekend after a drama-filled 2021 season with title rival and Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton. After a few days to reflect on the victory, the new world champion sat down for an interview on Wednesday to share his thoughts on a dramatic end to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Honda's departure from his Red Bull team and Formula 1, and spoke to Mercedes' protests regarding controversial interpretations of race day rules.

"Up until that point [when Williams' driver Nicholas Latifi crashed], it looked like I was losing the championship," Verstappen said. "But I always kept believing. When they said the cars can pass and you are racing one lap to the end, I was very motivated to try and go for it, which I did."

Verstappen had a single shot with one lap of racing under a green flag to chase down Hamilton and win the drivers' championship, following a decision from FIA F1 race director Michael Masi to only allow a select number of cars to unlap themselves. The five unlapped cars happened to be the traffic sitting between Verstappen and Hamilton.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

Verstappen and Hamilton's title fight may be the greatest of a generation.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

"Of course I was hoping for miracles in my head, but I was also focused on doing the best I could," Verstappen said, further recalling his thoughts when Latifi's crash resulted in a safety car on lap 53 of 58. Ultimately, Verstappen and Red Bull's miracle came true with such a scenario to change the race's trajectory and Red Bull was able to pit for a fresh set of soft compound tires. Hamilton remained on track with a worn set of hard compound tires from much earlier in the race. "Never stop believing until the last lap is driven," Verstappen added.

The controversial decision to only allow some cars to unlap and clear space for what seemed too good to be true in Red Bull's eyes, naturally, didn't sit well with rival Mercedes. The team swiftly lodged a protest against the race director's decision, which the stewards ultimately dismissed. On Thursday morning, Mercedes withdrew its intention to appeal the dismissal as the FIA announced its own investigation on rule enforcements, effectively settling the drivers' championship title for good.

Verstappen, however, dismissed any potential asterisks associated with his victory and championship title.

"I don't think about it too much. It doesn't matter what [Mercedes] try to do. We won it on track, we won it when there was a green flag and we passed them on track. They will never be able to take that away from me."

Max Verstappen
Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Nor can anything erase numerous memories from the 2021 season, of which Verstappen said a win in his home country of the Netherlands at Zandvoort ranks highly. "For sure the memory of winning in Zandvoort [was special]," he said. "There was a lot of pressure on me to win it, but to do it was really nice. Luckily there we a lot of good memories throughout the season."

Through the ensuing celebrations this year, the Dutchman's victorious triumph at the end turned bittersweet for Red Bull's power unit supplier, Honda. The manufacturer last year announced it would leave the sport after the 2021 season's conclusion. On one hand, it's easy to imagine what could be if Honda stuck around after such a strong showing, but on the other, it's a fairytale ending for the company.

"It's been an incredible journey for sure between Honda and ourselves," Verstappen said, when asked about Honda's support over the past four seasons. "It's been a huge pleasure working with them and also seeing the passion from Japan. It's really been something else."

Max Verstappen

Honda helped power Verstappen to victory this year.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen joked that Honda, which departed the sport a handful of times in the past just as glory came its way, seems to return the best results as it leaves. "It always seems like when they pull out of the sport they have the best success," Verstappen said. "Maybe they'll just have to keep reentering every year. It was really enjoyable and who knows, maybe in the future they can come back again."

And speaking of what the future holds for the young world champion, he's already excited for the 2022 season, though admits he's ready for a break after this year. But he approaches the upcoming season, which will feature new regulations and a new race car, with a familiar passion.

"Anything is possible and anyone is beatable as well."