Everything was on the line as the two drivers headed into the final race, the pair were equal on points which meant that whoever outdid the other at Yas Marina would be crowned the 2021 champion.
Hamilton looked set to seal his eighth championship with the Mercedes driver leading for 51 out of the 58 laps despite Verstappen taking pole for the race.
But, as per usual this season, controversy struck. Williams’ driver Nicholas Latifi took centre stage when his crash late on threw a spanner in the works for Hamilton. The decision was made for the Englishman stay out of the pits and keep his old, hard compound tyres for the final five laps while Verstappen pitted and switched to soft compound tyres.
The talking point of the race arrived when race director Michael Masi made the last-second call to allow the lapped cars to overtake the safety car. This decision paved the way for the Red Bull driver who was seen able to catch up with his rival.
Hamilton tried his best to keep pace but the Red Bull’s new tyres proved too greater challenge as Verstappen was first to reach the chequered flag and win the drivers’ championship.
Masi’s decision led to an outcry from the Mercedes camp with boss Toto Wolff raging over the radio, saying “this is not right”.
As Red Bull began their celebrations, Mercedes were trawling through the rule book and eventually lodged two official protests, both of which were officially rejected.
Verstappen can now celebrate becoming the first Dutchman to win the F1 title while Red Bull celebrate their first title for some time – having been waiting in the wings since 2013.
The new F1 world champion was congratulated by Hamilton and his father while there was also plenty of support from the sea of Dutch fans in the stands.
"It's just insane, I mean, my goal when I was little was to become a Formula 1 driver and to go for wins, to be on the podium," said Verstappen.
"When they play the national anthem, you want it to be yours, and when you stand here and they tell you that you are the world champion, it's something incredible and special."
Meanwhile, Hamilton was gracious in defeat despite many considering that he was robbed given the circumstances.
“It's been the most difficult of seasons. I'm so proud of them, so grateful to be on the journey with them. We gave it absolutely everything, we never gave up and that's the most important thing," Hamilton said.
"I've been feeling great in the car this past couple of months, particularly at the end. But if I'm honest, we're still in the pandemic and I just wish everyone to stay safe and have a good Christmas with their families, and we'll see about next year."
The tense finish to what can only be described as an increasingly strained rival between the pair may still be far from over with Mercedes weighing up further legal challenges, which could involve taking their case to the court of arbitration for sport.
For the time being, there will be a new champion in Verstappen whose long wait for the title came to an end in quite chaotic circumstances after an outstanding 2021 season.
|1||Max Verstappen (Red Bull)|
|2||Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)|
|3||Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)|
|4||Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)|
|5||Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)|
|6||Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)|
|7||Lando Norris (McLaren)|
|8||Fernando Alonso (Alpine)|
|9||Esteban Ocon (Alpine)|
|10||Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)|