Cold hard fact: Red Bulls' Max Verstappen is the 2021 F1 Drivers' Champion. He seized the title from Lewis Hamilton whose Mercedes team gambled on the final race not restarting after a late crash. This roll of the dice at the very pointed end of a remarkable season cost Hamilton his eighth world title.
In motorsport, timing is everything.
Mercedes had limited time to make the call, and they based their decision on the most likely safety car outcome, which was the race to be completed under yellow. But race director Micheal Masi saw it differently. Keen to avoid a processional finish, he made an unprecedented call around the restart. This decision blew Mercedes' tactic off the track and provided a grand-stand finish to the Grand Prix.
Verstappen, on the cusp of failing to deliver after a season that saw him top the table for laps led, kilometres led, podiums secured, pole positions secured, and most importantly, races won, was watching Hamilton drive away with the title in a faster car in the last race of a 22-round spectacular.
Then Williams' Nicolas Latifi drove into a wall.
That one incident, from a bit part player, triggered a series of events that enabled Verstappen to claim the title.
The season was laden with race-control inconsistencies, which on balance played favours to neither team, but the most crucial and telling decision was not only in the hands of the stewards, but in the hands of Mercedes as well.
When Latifi's wreck caused a safety car, Mercedes' call not to pit Hamilton was the final straw. Had they pitted Hamilton for fresh rubber immediately, and Verstappen followed suit, Hamilton would've maintained a slender lead by proxy of both drivers having pitted. Had Verstappen not come in and left Hamilton behind in race order, during the ensuing last lap sprint, Hamilton would've passed Verstappen in the same manner as Verstappen did to him in the actual race sprint to the chequered flag, by showing superior speed with brand new tires.
Of course, this is with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, a punt on whether the race would restart or not proving to be the critical moment in a year of white-knuckle, see-saw racing. Should this failed punt have occurred mid-season, it would've been just another incident in the book that makes up Formula 1, a mere footnote. Yes, Hamilton was unlucky, but Verstappen was statistically the most successful driver throughout the season. His title is deserved.
Perhaps a red flag then fresh tire restart would've been a more desirable climax. But it wasn't to be.
So the Dutchman and the energy drink company enjoyed the spoils, but with more than just a cursory glance at the proceedings, the biggest and most important conclusion out of a thrilling year of high stakes, high paced and eye-watering money is this: For the fans who supported neither protagonist, for the fans who love the sport more than the teams and very importantly, for the new and wide-eyed fresh followers exposed to the sport by the wildly successful and compelling 'Drive to Survive' series - it didn't matter who won, it was how the battle was fought.
This season has played out in a manner which Liberty Media, who own F1, could only have dreamed of. The championship fight came down the last race, the last lap, in a fight between the king of the sport and the barbarian pretender.
'Drive to Survive' engaged a different type of fan. Not the dyed in the wool petrolhead, but the casual observer who was dragged in by human stories of people with huge personalities, clashes of wills, immense power and stupendous expenditure. Glamour, intrigue, and above all, the very real possibility of the ultimate sacrifice.
This season captured the very essence of Formula One and the global financial and environmental irresponsibility that it is.
In a sporting year, strangled by the menace of Covid, the Grand Prix circus has lit up the planet across 20 countries providing a weary public with the distraction they needed. Bright lights, fast cars, big noise and a clash for the ages.
Verstappen may have won the title, but Formula One won Formula One in 2021.