By Robert Haile
Twenty two rounds later and it came down to the final lap of the final race to decide who would be the Formula One World Champion.
In what is a fitting end to a memorable season it all came down to a contentious decision.
With a Safety Car brought out as Stewards cleared up the track after Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed.
Five cars that were between race leader Lewis Hamilton and second place Max Verstappen were allowed to un-lap themselves.
Verstappen had pitted earlier for new soft tyres with Hamilton staying out on his older hard tyres.
Then the decision was made by Michael Masi, the race director, there would be one lap of racing.
All Hamilton had to do was hold off Verstappen and he would be World Champion, on the fifth corner his defence failed and the Red Bull driver passed on his way to the finish line.
After the race Mercedes lodged two protests with the FIA, one of which has been dismissed that Verstappen overtook Hamilton while under the Safety Car as both were accelerating and braking.
The other is about the lapped cars overtaking under a Safety Car which the FIA is yet to rule on.
The 34th Formula One World Champion and first Dutch driver to do so Verstappen said: “It is unbelievable. The whole race I kept fighting and then that opportunity in the last lap. It is incredible.
“I am still having a cramp (in his leg). It is insane. These guys (fans in the stands), my team and, of course, at home as well deserve it.
“I love them so much and I really, really enjoyed working with them since 2016 but this year has been incredible.
“Finally a bit of luck for me. I also want to say a big thank you to Checo (Sergio Pérez), he was driving his heart out as well. It was great teamwork and he is an amazing teammate.
“To my team, I think they know I love them, and I hope we can do this for 10, 15 years together. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life. I hope they let me. I am so happy.
“Christian (Horner) and Helmut (Marko) trusted me to be in the team. Our goal was to win this championship and now we have done that.”
Talking about that lap and the race before it Verstappen admitted: “Before the last lap, of course, it was hard to believe.
“But you always have to keep believing; I kept on pushing the whole race to try and stay within the gaps.
“That helped me, they couldn’t pit for a free stop, and we could because I had no pressure from behind.
“Then at the end, of course, that gave me the opportunity with the fresh tires to attack and go for the move in that last lap.
“I had a cramp, starting the last lap. So the whole last lap on the straights when I was going full throttle, I had a massive cramp in my calf.
“That was not very nice, but you have to just keep it flat. You can’t back off.”
Reminiscing about where he came from and all the people who helped and supported him, including current teammate Sergio Perez, Verstappen thanked them saying: “My goal when I was little was, of course, to become a Formula One driver and you hope for wins and you hope to be on the podium.
“They play the national anthem and one day you hope they play yours.
“When you stand here and they tell you, you are the world champion, it is incredible especially with my Dad (Jos) and the special moment we had here.
“Throughout all the years we spent together travelling for that goal and then everything comes together in the last lap.
“My whole team, my family, my friends, the people I grew up with go-karting, they wanted to push me to where I am today and most of them were here.”
“It is incredible to see all this orange here and all over the world.
“They have supported me throughout my whole career and the support is just incredible.
“I tried to keep on pushing and believe in it, even though it didn’t look like it. Sometimes miracles happen.
“When we started working together (Pérez), it’s always difficult to know exactly how it’s going to work out.
“Checo is just an amazing human being.
“It’s very rare to have a teammate like that. What he showed today, he was a real team player and I hope we can continue this for a long time.”
Talking about Mercedes and his main rival Hamilton Verstappen said: “Lewis is an amazing driver and an amazing competitor who made it really, really hard for us and I think everyone loved to see it.
“Of course, the two teams had some tough times but I think that is all part of the sport and it is emotion.
“Everyone wants to win and it could have gone either way today.
“Next year we will come back and try it all over again.”
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz claimed the final podium place ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly for AlphaTauri.
In his final outing for Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas finished sixth while Lando Norris dropped four places to seventh after qualifying third for McLaren.
Fernando Alonso beat teammate Esteban Ocon to eighth for Alpine with Charles Leclerc scored the last solitary point for Ferrari.
Aston Martin’s pair of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were separated by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo with Haas’ Mick Schumacher last of the runners in fourteenth.
Of those that did not finish were three drivers in there last races with their teams.
Williams’ George Russell will head to Mercedes, Kimi Raikkonen retires from Alfa Romeo while teammate Antonio Giovinazzi will be a Formula E driver after his contact was not renewed.
In the Constructors Championship Mercedes held onto the title ahead of Red Bull with Ferrari beating McLaren to third.
Alpine held off AlphaTauri for fifth while Aston Martin, Williams and Alfa Romeo came in behind with Haas in tenth.
That’s 2021 finished but don’t panic the new season is less than one hundred days away.