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Verstappen feared he couldn’t finish F1 title decider due to leg cramp

Max Verstappen reckons he wouldn’t have been able to do one more lap of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix due to leg cramp after the final Formula 1 safety car restart.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, arrives in Parc Ferme after securing the 2021 drivers championship

The Dutchman pulled off a last-lap overtake on Lewis Hamilton to snatch victory in the F1 season finale, which helped secure him his maiden world title.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, the Red Bull driver revealed he had battled the pain barrier with leg cramp during the intense final moments of the fight.

But in an interview published in The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, Verstappen has revealed just how much he was suffering – and how it would have been hard for him to carry on if the race had run much longer.

He said the difficulties he faced applying the throttle could be seen on telemetry data, as he questioned how much longer he would have been able to go on for.

“If you go back over the data you will not see a very smooth throttle input. I was screaming on the radio [after he had won] but the whole lap my foot was going like that,” he said.

“It was completely done. One more lap and I couldn’t have finished the race like that. The stress levels were so high in the final lap that probably your body reacts to that. But you cannot give up.”

Reflecting on those closing moments, knowing there was just one lap to go, Verstappen said: “I was like: ‘I need to overtake him [Hamilton]. There’s only one option here. I’m not going to finish second.’

“I tried to be really on it with the restart. It was all working well until I crossed the line and started to feel cramp in my leg. It’s one of the most painful things that can happen because you’re going full throttle for a long time.

“You feel the muscle clenching and becoming like a tennis ball. Of course the adrenaline helps because, if it were to happen when you’re just walking around, you cannot move. It’s impossible.

“But there was no option; I had to. So I was just keeping it full throttle and I could feel my leg hurting more and more. Luckily, turn five arrived and I went for the [overtaking] move. I had like three seconds off throttle.

“You then have two very long straights and, on the second one where Lewis came back at me, I could feel my foot vibrating. I couldn’t control it because the muscle was having a spasm. My foot on the last sector was like this [he indicated a juddering motion].”

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While the controversy over the FIA’s handling of the safety car restart rumbles on, Verstappen insists the matter has not taken the shine off his success.

Asked if he felt his title had been overshadowed by the controversy, Verstappen said: “Not at all. I had a very good season and I think I really deserved it. I have been really unlucky as well. People always remember the last race but, if you look at the whole season, the championship should have been decided way earlier.”

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