Verstappen suits up to collect his world championship trophy in Paris

Max Verstappen suits up to collect his drivers’ world championship trophy at the FIA’s Gala Dinner in Paris… and the Red Bull champion says he believes Sir Lewis Hamilton WILL be back to renew their rivalry on the grid next season

  • Max Verstappen attended the FIA Gala dinner in Paris on Thursday night
  • The Dutch Red Bull driver collected his 2021 world championship trophy 
  • Verstappen’s rival Lewis Hamilton elected not to attend the event in Paris
  • Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Hamilton was ‘disillusioned’ and could walk away

Max Verstappen was the centre of attention in Paris as he suited up to collect his drivers’ world championship trophy.

Amid a backdrop of a bitter fall-out following the controversial end to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which saw Verstappen snatch victory on the final lap, the Red Bull driver was celebrated alongside his girlfriend Kelly Piquet at the FIA’s Gala Dinner on Thursday night.

His title rival Lewis Hamilton, along with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, elected not to go to the end-of-season event but it was a night to remember for Verstappen. 

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen collected the world championship trophy on Thursday night

Verstappen (right) attended the FIA Gala dinner in Paris along with girlfriend Kelly Piquet (left)

Verstappen was in buoyant mood as he shook hands with departing FIA president Jean Todt

There has been some suggestions that Hamilton could walk away from the sport following the gut-wrenching disappointment at losing what he felt was set to be his eighth world title. 

But for F1’s newest champion, Verstappen expects Hamilton to be back next season to battle for a record eighth title despite the disappointment at being beaten this year.

Speaking to reporters before the governing FIA’s Gala Dinner in Paris, where he was presented with the champion’s trophy, the Red Bull driver recognised his Mercedes rival’s suffering. 

‘I don’t feel sorry but I can understand of course that it can be very painful,’ said Verstappen.

‘But at the end of the day that’s racing as well. You just have to just keep fighting to the end and you know that in racing anything can happen.

‘He also won a championship like that. So I think he can understand as well,’ added the 24-year-old, who overtook Hamilton at Yas Marina when a sudden change to the safety car procedure gave him a chance after it seemed he had none.

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff says Lewis Hamilton is considering quitting Formula One

Hamilton took his first title with McLaren in 2008 with a last corner move that shattered Brazilian Ferrari driver Felipe Massa’s hopes.

Asked how bad it would be if Hamilton did not come back to renew the battle next season, Verstappen doubted that would happen.

‘I can understand that the first few days after a race like that you’re not happy but you should also understand this is racing,’ he said. ‘I think he should just look back at what he has achieved already.

Hamilton congratulates Verstappen after the race but remains bitterly unhappy over the finale

‘That should give him a lot of comfort and should also be that drive to just keep on going because he is still trying to challenge for that eighth title and for sure he can do that again next year.

‘So I don’t see any reason why to give up or stop now.’  

Mercedes boss Wolff (above) and Hamilton snubbed the FIA gala in Paris on Thursday night

‘But if we break that fundamental principle of sporting fairness and the authenticity of the sport, then suddenly the stopwatch doesn’t become relevant anymore. Because we are exposed to random decision making. And it is clear that you may fall out of love with a sport if you start to question, despite all the work you have been doing, all the sweat and tears and blood.

‘So it’s going to take a long time to digest what has happened on Sunday. I don’t think we will ever get over it. It’s not possible. Certainly not as a driver.

‘I would very much hope that the two of us and the rest of the team can work through the events, and with the FIA and F1 we can utilise the situation to improve the sport going forward.

‘But you can never overcome the pain and the distress that was caused on Sunday. To me it still feels surreal. And when I rethink the situation, that on lap 57 the right decision was being taken that no cars will have to unlap themselves.

Verstappen (right) passed Hamilton on the last lap in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Verstappen’s victory at the Yas Marina circuit confirmed his world championship success

Wolff is still refusing to talk to FIA race director Michael Masi after Sunday’s race

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