Dutch driver Max Verstappen (Red Bull) became the Formula 1 world champion in December 2021 by beating Britain's Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) on the final lap of the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi. Mercedes took the constructors' title for the eighth consecutive year.
Verstappen, who lost the race lead early on, regained the advantage on the last lap after the safety car intervened due to the crash of Canadian Nicholas Latiffi (Williams).
At 24 years of age, Max Verstappen is a champion for the first time, eight points ahead of Hamilton.
Winning the championship in the last race of the season was not an unprecedented situation, as this scenario has happened on 28 occasions throughout history. But it was only the second time that two drivers reached the final battle tied for points in the standings.
A family of drivers and a demanding path
Born in Belgium in 1997, but defining himself as Dutch, Max Verstappen comes from a family of drivers: his father, Jos Verstappen, raced eight Formula 1 seasons for teams such as Benetton or Tyrrell; his mother, Sophie-Marie Kumpen, competed, with great prominence, in karting; his grandfather, Paul Kumpen, competed in endurance races, and even his uncle Anthony Kunpen participated in crucial races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
He competed in his first kart race when he was only four years old.
At 15, he became world champion in karting, doing justice to the results of the strict upbringing he had at home, conceived to form an elite driver.
Max recalls episodes of his demanding father: in 2019, his father left him at a gas station in Italy after he crashed in a race he could have easily won. For Max, Formula 1 didn’t hold any surprises, as he assumes that there was "no one harder" on him than his father.
The most demanding of managers, Jos Verstappen, guided young Max to Formula 1 through Toro Rosso, Red Bull's satellite team, in 2015, starting a path in which he broke several records within the sport.
At 17, he became the youngest ever to race the Australian Grand Prix. Two events later, in Malaysia, he became the youngest ever to score by being seventh.
In 2016, in Hasselt, he was promoted to the Red Bull primary team, replacing Russian Daniil Kvyat. In his first race the team and at 18-year-old, he won the Spanish GP.
Max Verstappen's success in Formula 1 happened despite various incidents, many of them caused by his impetuousness on the track. After two third-place finishes in 2019 and 2020, the driver had achieved greater self-control and fought for the title, revealing, at 24, a maturity acquired over the previous seven seasons.
Verstappen became the fourth-youngest to win the world championship, behind Germany's Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton himself, and Spain's Fernando Alonso.
Becoming a world champion has its perks. Verstappen is entitled to use the number 1 on his single-seater, and the driver already announced he will do so: "it is good for business". His father manages his very profitable career and ancillary business: for example, a cheerleading squad follows the team throughout the year, thanks to the Max Verstappen Official Travel agency, which arranges travel and reserved seats at Grand Prix events for the Reb Bull driver's fans.
2021 was a brilliant year for the driver: let's see if 2022 adds up, as most of the industry's experts believe.
Get to know Verstappen's records as the youngest driver in Formula 1
- 2014, Toro Rosso: Youngest driver to test a Formula 1 car, aged 17 years and two days;
- 2015, Toro Rosso: Youngest driver to race in Formula 1, aged 17 years and 166 days;
- 2016, Red Bull Racing: Youngest driver to win a race, aged 18 years and 228 days;
- 2016, Red Bull Racing: Youngest driver to set the best lap, aged 19 years and 44 days;
- 2021, Red Bull Racing: Youngest driver to make the Grand Slam, aged 23 years and 277 days;