Max Verstappen prevails in world title shoot-out
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Max Verstappen has revealed his new nickname for team-mate Sergio Perez, stemming from the stellar piece of defensive work the Mexican performed at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Verstappen won his maiden F1 title at Yas Marina, but was helped to do so by a late safety car and the first-rate work of his fellow Red Bull racer.
After a controversial overtake on the first lap, Lewis Hamilton had the lead in the season finale and stretched it out over the first part of the race.
His Mercedes appeared to be just too powerful for the Red Bull to keep tabs on over the course of a race.
But when Hamilton pitted early for fresh tyres, Verstappen did the same a lap later – leaving Perez leading the race for a few laps.
Perez, on much older tyres and in a car which was proving to be slower on the day, was quickly reeled in by the Mercedes on a mission.
It was expected Hamilton would catch up within a few laps and overtake with ease, which would have left Verstappen in an even more desperate position.
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But while the Brit did indeed catch up, overtaking proved a more difficult task as the Mexican produced a brilliant display of defensive driving.
Perez was aggressive, but not overly so, and the pair exchanged blows like heavyweight fighters over the course of several corners until Hamilton finally made an overtake stick.
But the Red Bull man had achieved what he had been left out there to do, as the gap between the two title race protagonists had closed from around 10 seconds to just one.
The gap opened again as the race went on, but it meant Verstappen was close enough to pit hastily when the safety car came out, so he was on fresh soft tyres in case there were any more laps to be raced.
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Infamously, and controversially, there was one more lap of racing and Verstappen made it count by overtaking and winning both the race and the championship.
Perez has been known by fellow drivers and fans as ‘Checo’ throughout his racing career, but now he has a new nickname as far as the new world champion is concerned.
In a video released by Red Bull reflecting on the season, Verstappen dubbed his team-mate: “The minister of defence.”
While winning the title in the UAE will be the obvious stand-out moment for the Dutchman, in that same video he highlighted another memory of the season which was a good one for both Red Bull drivers.
He won the Mexican Grand Prix and Perez came home third, sparking jubilant celebrations in front of the stands as Perez’s father joined in with the festivities.
“When we got there, the fans were already really crazy. Of course, a lot of Checo fans but now having Checo in the team, it was full of Red Bull everywhere,” Verstappen said.
“Really happy I won the race but I was also super-happy to see Checo on the podium for his home grand prix. Checo’s dad was celebrating – I think he’s still celebrating!”
Verstappen and Perez will continue their fruitful partnership next season, with Red Bull perhaps finally landing on a solid combination after a swathe of failed attempts in recent years.
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