I deserved it, says Verstappen


Two months on from the controversy of Abu Dhabi, Max Verstappen believes he fully deserved the title as he describes the physical pain of that final lap.

If Saturday evening's tweet from Lewis Hamilton, and those that followed from his team, were anything to go by, it would appear that the 2022 title fight is well and truly on.

At a time Hollywood is said to be considering a movie based on the sport, Hamilton and Max Verstappen going head-to-head once again has all the makings of a blockbuster grudge match.

Of course, other than the six words that comprised Saturday's tweet we have yet to hear from Hamilton since that fateful evening at the Yas Marina, and it remains to be seen if the seven-time world champion will be more forthcoming in the coming weeks or opt to let his driving do the talking.

Ahead of the launch of the car with which he hopes to become the eleventh driver to score back-to-back titles, Max Verstappen has finally spoken out about the final moments of that race, while insisting that he fully deserved the title.

"I had a very good season and I think I really deserved it," he tells the Guardian. "I have been really unlucky as well," he adds. "People always remember the last race but, if you look at the whole season, the championship should have been decided way earlier."

As opposed to the clashes with his nemesis at Silverstone and Monza, no doubt, the Dutchman is referring to the tyre failure whilst leading in Azerbaijan and being hit by Valtteri Bottas at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Abu Dhabi, few will ever forget that final lap, as, in the best Hollywood tradition, it all came down to a winner takes all fight to the finish.

"What was going on in my head...," says the Dutchman of that final encounter, "I was like, 'I need to overtake him. There's only one option here. I'm not going to finish second'.

"I tried to be really on it with the restart," he continues. "It was all working well until I crossed the line and started to feel cramp in my leg.

"It's one of the most painful things that can happen because you're going full throttle for a long time. You feel the muscle clenching and becoming like a tennis ball. Of course the adrenaline helps because, if it were to happen when you're just walking around, you cannot move. It's impossible. But there was no option; I had to.

"So I was just keeping it full throttle and I could feel my leg hurting more and more. Luckily, turn five arrived and I went for the move. I had like three seconds off throttle.

"You then have two very long straights and, on the second one where Lewis came back at me, I could feel my foot vibrating. I couldn't control it because the muscle was having a spasm. My foot on the last sector was like this...

"If you go back over the data you will not see a very smooth throttle input," he admits. "I was screaming on the radio but the whole lap my foot was going like that. It was completely done. One more lap and I couldn't have finished the race like that. The stress levels were so high in the final lap that probably your body reacts to that. But you cannot give up.

"I knew I had more grip," he says of the move at Turn 5, "so I was like: 'I'm going to surprise them on that corner'. Even my dad didn't expect me to do it there. These kind of things make the difference. But two long straights were coming up.

"I couldn't believe it," he admits, "especially after the whole race when everything looked like it was not happening. Suddenly your emotions swing 100% the other way.

"So crazy. It's what we had worked for my whole life. It was always my dream. Once you cross the line you realise you finally have it. I jumped out of the car and all the mechanics and my dad were running towards me.

"I thought he could die," he says of his father, Jos, "because it looked like he was about to have a heart attack. He was so pale, it was incredible. His skin colour was definitely not healthy."

Asked about the exchange with Hamilton in the moments after the race, he admits: "I only saw him quickly, when we took our helmets off, and I think it was: 'Congrats, man'. I don't even know the words any more. But it was nice of him, of course, to immediately come over.

"For me it's difficult to picture myself in that situation," he says in terms of how Hamilton must have been feeling, "because I'm not a seven-time world champion.

"If I was already a seven-time world champion it hurts a bit less than when I am fighting for my first, leading all the way, controlling it all the way, and then losing it on the last lap. That would be way more painful than already having seven in the bag."

Since that moment there has been no contact between the pair.

"That's quite normal," says the Red Bull star, "we live our own lives and see each other quite a lot already (when racing)."

Asked if he was concerned when Mercedes first launched its appeal, he responds: "Not that it could be taken away from me but just it was dragging on. That whole night we were waiting and then the result came out."

The official investigation into what happened in Abu Dhabi won't be known until the eve of the season opener, nonetheless Verstappen is unconcerned. "Yeah, but they can't do anything," he says.

With that first title under his belt, the Dutch youngster admits that a little bit of pressure has been removed.

"That little pressure in the back of your mind, of having to win a world championship or trying to win it, has gone," he says. "It's already happened. I've done it. So when it's tough or you're having bad luck you probably will deal with it easier than normal."

Asked if he's targeting 7, like Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, or even 8, he relies: "Not really. If I never get to a No 7 or No 8, it's fine. You need a lot of luck to be in such a dominant position for such a long time. I just want to enjoy it and I know that, when I get to the track, I still want to win."

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Published: 08/02/2022
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