Inside F1 2021 finale paddock: Nat Pinkham on "surreal" scenes after Lewis Hamilton loss
Sky F1's Nat Pinkham describes the scene after the F1 2021 season finale showdown between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Sky Sports F1 expert Nat Pinkham has described the "surreal" scene following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that led to Max Verstappen being crowned king at the expense of Lewis Hamilton.
Pinkham was covering the race for Sky and lifted the lid on the behind-the-scenes drama that unfolded around her with special praise reserved for Lewis Hamilton, a shell-shocked Nicholas Latifi and why the controversial climax was a "fitting end" to 2021.
Hamilton was in cruise control on his way to the title before Latifi spun off in the closing stages to prompt a safety car that was controversially dismissed with one lap to go.
In that moment, Verstappen seized an opportunity to claim his maiden world title victory, to the euphoria of Red Bull boss Christian Horner and indignation of his Mercedes counterpart, Toto Wolff.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, she said: "It was surreal. I woke up afterwards thinking, 'Did I just dream all of that? Did that actually happen?'
"There was a sense of disbelief and it was surreal. There was absolute elation on one half and absolute shock and disbelief on the other. It was one of those 'we were there' moments.
"Poor old Nicholas Latifi, his eyes were out on stalks in the pen afterwards. He came to me for his interview, all the drama was unfolding around him and I said, 'Are you able to react to what's just happened?' He said, 'I don't know what's just happened!' Poor guy.
"And then there's people joking, 'He's on a bung from Red Bull!' And I'm like, give the guy a break. He's probably the nicest guy in the paddock and this poor guy is being vilified for determining the outcome of the championship.
"I think about some of the racing that we've seen in 2021 and it blows your mind. You could not have scripted it. And had you scripted it, had a Hollywood producer written that, it would have been thrown out for being unrealistic!
"In a way, that final lap, it all coming down to 3.2 miles of tarmac, is quite a fitting end to such a controversial season. It was sort of a microcosm of the season as a whole."
Approximately 7.4 million people tuned in to watch Sky F1's coverage for the thrilling conclusion – shared between its own platform and Channel 4 – and Hamilton received widespread praise for his reaction to such a dramatic climax.
Pinkham was full of admiration for Hamilton for what she saw on the ground in Abu Dhabi.
She said: "I cannot praise Lewis highly enough. I think anyone who doubted him before this weekend is going to be a fan of his now. And that's the irony in all of this. In losing, he's probably gained millions more fans in that moment.
"For Lewis to handle himself the way he did in that pressure cooker moment was just nothing shortly of astonishing. For him to keep that level of calm, when all else around him is anything but, just tells you so much about the guy.
"What a role model! I mean, any kids watching that, that is how you cope with defeat and the disbelief of the situation because there's so many that would argue that it was incredibly unfair. Maybe he's like some kind of swan where his legs were going like the clappers underwater.
"Anyone who doubted the strength of his character and the depth of his character. There's no doubt now. He showed his true colours, he showed the depths of his soul. That wasn't acting, that was incredible.
"There's a lot of people who would have thrown their dummy out and then would have gone afterwards and apologised, say it was in the heat of the moment and didn't mean it. He didn't.
"His dad went up and hugged Jos [Verstappen], he went and hugged Max. And also the reaction of all the other drivers was brilliant. Daniel Ricciardo said he just could not help but feel gutted for Lewis.
"When you look back across the whole season, you recognise that Max had 10 wins and eight podiums – he's a worthy winner, you can't deny that. For me, neither deserved to walk away empty-handed but that is sport.
"What incredible role models. Both drivers are great assets for the sport at opposite ends of their careers. It's brilliant for F1."
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