Lewis Hamilton has opened up for the first time about his defeat at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he chased a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 Driver's Championship.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen took a dramatic championship victory last season by passing Hamilton, who drives for Mercedes, on the final lap after the race was allowed to restart following a crash involving Williams driver Nicolas Latifi which happened with five laps to go.
At the time of the crash Hamilton had an eleven second lead on Verstappen but after the race was neutralised the Dutch driver took his chance to claim his maiden title. A controversial on-the-spot rule change allowed Verstappen the opportunity to pass with a lopsided performance advantage on the final lap.
Hamilton spoke in detail about the 2021 season finale for the first time this week.
“You see things start to unfold and my worst fears came alive,” Hamilton told Vanity Fair.
"I was like, there’s no way they’re going to cheat me out of this. There’s no way. That won’t happen. Surely not.
Hamilton was left stunned by the result as he sat in his car, describing it as one of the "toughest moments" he had experienced in years.
“I remember sitting there in disbelief. And realizing I’ve got to undo my belts, I’ve got to climb out of this thing. I’ve got to find the strength. It was one of the toughest moments that I’ve had in a long, long time.” pic.twitter.com/k1OnkCoqaa
— Stefan⁴⁴ (@__SteF1) August 8, 2022
“I don’t know if I can really put into words the feeling that I had.
“I do remember just sitting there just in disbelief. And realizing I’ve got to undo my belts, I’ve got to get out of there, I’ve got to climb out of this thing, I’ve got to find the strength. I had no strength. And it was one of the toughest moments, I would say, that I’ve had in a long, long time.”
Lewis Hamilton comforted by his father
When Hamilton eventually got out of his car he was greeted by his father Anthony. Their relationships down the years has been difficult at times but has recovered.
“He embraced me, and I think he was like, ‘I want you to know how proud I am of you.’ Having your father embrace you in that way is one of the most profound things I’ve ever…especially as you’ve grown up not many times having that,” an emotional Hamilton said.
MAX VERSTAPPEN SNATCHES THE WIN ON THE LAST LAP!! 😰
A FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE RED BULL DRIVER 🏆
📺 Sky Sports F1
#️⃣ #SkyF1 | #F1 | #AbuDhabiGP pic.twitter.com/XyGs0ENZA6
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) December 12, 2021
Two of Hamilton's closest friends, chairwoman of Starbucks Mellody Hobson and Star Wars director George Lucas, were also in Abu Dhabi that day unbeknownst to Hamilton.
Hamilton went over to shake the hand of Verstappen which earned high praise from Lucas.
“Heroes are bigger than champions. Lewis just earned hero status,” the American said.
Hamilton became aware of the comments after and described the praise from Lucas as "surreal".
“Look, I was going through whatever emotions I was going through, so no one could say anything to me.
“It doesn’t matter who. It doesn’t really matter what is said. When you’re feeling a certain way, sometimes it’s hard to break through.
“It’s one of the greatest compliments you could receive. It is very, very surreal to grow up watching Star Wars and have Yoda’s dad say positive things about you.”
While he has now come to terms with the heartbreaking defeat last season, Hamilton currently sits in only sixth place in the Drivers Championships standings with Verstappen leading the way with only nine races remaining. Mercedes struggled early on this season, but recent races have given them more hope, with Hamilton claiming second place in the last two races in France and Hungary.