The Dutchman and the Briton have been going hammer and tongs all year and it was right that we came into this Grand Prix with them level on points in the standings, after a campaign of high drama, brilliant speed and pulsating rivalry.
Suitably, the top two were one and two on the grid at lights out, and it was Verstappen who would cross the finish line first but only after a late, dramatic Safety Car call that allowed him to close up to Hamilton and overtake him on totally fresh tyres, on the very last lap.
Much has been made this year of the Dutchman going for his first-ever title and how he would deal with the pressure, particularly up against one of the all-time greats in Hamilton, but in fairness to him he has kept his composure more often than not and, when the stakes were at their highest, he produced the goods.
He now writes himself into the history books of Formula 1, and it seems a pretty good bet that this will be by no means be his last championship before the end of his career, which could be over a decade away.
Of course, Hamilton will come again in 2022, joined by George Russell, and the likes of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc will want to engage in the fight as well but, with Verstappen now an affirmed world champion, the confidence he’ll have will mean he’ll take some stopping.
Full race report…
As mentioned, the race itself saw controversy from as early as turn six on lap one – though some might have said that was surprisingly late given all the pre-race talk – as Verstappen, jumped at the start by Hamilton, sent his Red Bull up the inside of the Mercedes.
The two didn’t touch but Hamilton did take evasive action and cut out the corner, as Verstappen just stayed on, stretching his gap out in front by a few tenths and maintaining his lead.
Naturally, Red Bull wanted the lead given to them but the Stewards felt that there was no investigation necessary, with them happy that Hamilton had backed off enough in the corners to follow to ensure any advantage gained was wiped out.
Things settled down after that, with Hamilton leading from Verstappen and his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and 12 laps in he was over four seconds clear of the Dutchman, with him lapping one second a lap quicker.
Lewis’ pace was impressive, particularly given he was on the slightly slower medium tyres but they were crucially more durable than Max’s softs and Verstappen had clearly worn out his rubber, with him stopping at the end of lap 13 for a set of hards – to cover Max, Lewis would stop a lap later.
The team game came into play here, then, with Red Bull telling Sergio Perez, who had inherited the lead, to stay out with a view to eventually halting Hamilton.
And halting the Mexican certainly did, Perez managed to knock seven seconds off of Hamilton’s lead around lap 19 and 20 in an epic scrap which allowed Verstappen to close right up before he had to let them both through and continue on their way.
Hamilton’s pace, though, remained strong despite Perez’s best efforts to help Verstappen get in front, and he began rebuilding his lead.
Certainly, it looked as though the Mercedes’ pace was just too good on the night no matter what Red Bull could think of, as we moved to the halfway stage.
However, Formula 1, especially this season, has had a happy habit of throwing in drama and we go that with just over 20 laps to go with a VSC being thrown after Antonio Giovinazzi had to retire.
At the slower pace, Max Verstappen opted to pit whilst Hamilton stayed out, handing the Dutchman a pit-stop with less of a time disadvantage, and on the fresh tyres the Dutchman had got from that stop, he had to go on the hunt, needing eight tenths a lap to close the gap to the Briton.
Verstappen started setting purple lap times on his fresh tyres, and began to eat away at the gap Hamilton had over him, but Lewis himself was doing enough to keep his pace where he needed to be to maintain his lead.
Indeed, try as Max might, he simply could not close the gap down enough to Lewis who was quickest on the night and, after a season like pretty much no other, it looked as though we were set for a pretty straight-forward finish.
This, though, is F1 in 2021 and with a handful of laps to go, the ultimate swing of the pendulum.
Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams and a Safety Car was cued. The field bunched up and, with a lap to go, the drivers were sent racing with the lapped cars let go and Verstappen, who had pitted again, simply had to pull off an overtake on far fresher, faster tyres.
By turn five on the final lap, he had done it, to seal his first-ever crown.
Breathless, brilliant and brutal for Lewis – the F1 season in a nutshell and we’re just sad it’s all over. Roll on 2022!