ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Formula One champion Max Verstappen snapped Mercedes’ five-race winning streak in Abu Dhabi on Saturday by winning the tense Formula One championship-deciding season finale.
It was one of the most exciting race in F1 history, dominated by Lewis Hamilton. But it didn’t appear to be Verstappen’s day as he took a nasty spill in the early stages and then lost position through the middle of the race after running wide entering a corner.
With Verstappen fighting back from the pain, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo looked to have a chance of winning for the first time since 2014, but he crashed heavily into an oncoming car and had to be taken to a nearby hospital to have his medical test results completed.
The doctors said they found no injuries, but Ricciardo had to return to the track under medical supervision. Red Bull later confirmed he was in no trouble and he was released from hospital shortly after his return to the track.
Verstappen became only the sixth driver since the 1950s to win the title in his first full season of F1, following a tense race between the Mercedes drivers.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire with an engine problem with 18 laps remaining. The German driver had been fighting for second with Hamilton up until his demise, but Ferrari’s strategy of wasting fuel to prolong the race ultimately proved the wrong move.
Mercedes led the driver’s championship with 173 points after qualifying. Vettel was next with 148 points. Verstappen finished 23 points behind but with just two races left, and also clinched the constructors’ championship.
It marked a controversial weekend in Abu Dhabi after Hamilton bumped Verstappen into the fencing and into the safety car at the end of the previous race in Mexico on Oct. 29.
The Dutch driver responded by repeatedly bumping the Mercedes driver. It did not result in any penalties, which raised even more questions about how F1, which does not sanction similar incidents in other races, could take such leniency with the most aggressive driver on the track.
It was such a factor that Hamilton feared Verstappen might be slower than him on Saturday’s final lap.
“I’m going to be so far back compared to where I want to be,” Hamilton said. “I’m afraid I’m going to be losing track position.”
Verstappen then went on to win by four-tenths of a second with Vettel in second place to wrap up his third F1 title in a four-year span with a record of 21 wins in 51 races. It matched Vettel’s feat from 2014-15.
Hinchcliffe fractures spine
Scottish racer Jules Bianchi suffered a fracture in his spine and could be paralyzed if it did not heal, Canadian IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe revealed on Saturday.
The IndyCar driver, who won the Indianapolis 500 this year, wrote on his personal Twitter account that he could not believe “I’ve broken the pain barrier again.”
Bianchi, 28, was critically injured in a MotoGP race in October 2013. He suffered a torn right anterior cruciate ligament and two fractured vertebrae.
The French driver spent months in a coma before waking up from the coma — reportedly to the sound of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” — and has since been kept alive through intensive rehabilitation.
The result from his MotoGP race in Italy in 2013 damaged his spine and he had to undergo further surgery to help reduce the fracture.
“I’m devastated for Jules,” Hinchcliffe, 29, said. “The last three years have not been easy for him. This is terrible news and there is no other way to say it.
“We have spoken about this before. The worst-case scenario is that Jules will never walk again. There is nothing we can do to improve his quality of life now.”
Bianchi is currently in France undergoing more extensive treatment to try to fix the fracture and has told Hinchcliffe that he doesn’t know if he will ever race again.