Red Bull star Max Verstappen has declared he feels like the Formula 1 world champion - and that won’t change no ‘matter what they try to do’.
Verstappen secured a maiden world title in contentious circumstances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. The Dutchman and his title rival Lewis Hamilton remarkably went into the season finale at the Yas Marina circuit tied on points.
Verstappen overtook the seven-time world champion - who had dominated throughout the race - on the final lap after a late Safety Car and tyre change swung momentum in his favour. The 24-year-old made an emphatic move on the Brit early on in the single lap shootout and never looked back.
The controversial ending saw Mercedes lodge two protests that were quickly dismissed by the FIA.
And on Thursday, Mercedes announced they were withdrawing their appeal - confirming Verstappen as the 2021 world champion - as Hamilton, who is tied with Michael Schumacher for the most titles in F1 history with seven world championships, reportedly does not want to win the record-breaking title in court.
Before Mercedes' decision was announced, Verstappen was asked how he felt on Wednesday amid the uncertainty surrounding his title win.
“I’m fine, I don’t even think about it too much, because I do feel like the world champion, and it doesn’t matter what they try to do,” the 24-year-old said.
“We won it on track, we won it when there was a green light and we passed them on track, and they will never be able to take that away from me anyway.
“About the possible appeal – I’m not busy with that. As a team of course it might be disturbing, but for us we have been really enjoying the last few days.”
The Dutchman recently revealed Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had sent him a congratulatory text message after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
When asked about his relationship with Wolff, Verstappen said: “The relationship – I think I can be a forgiving person, but at the moment it’s still all so new…that it’s better not to talk about it too much.
“But I saw Toto in Monaco before Saudi, I had a dinner and he was sitting on the table next to me and we had a chat. He of course goes flat out for his team and I know mine also does everything they can.
“But besides that I do think you should be accepting a loss, it doesn’t matter how much it hurts. I do think that there’s a bit of a difference between the teams.”
Verstappen received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Red Bull’s headquarters in Milton Keynes on Wednesday - and team principal Christian Horner spoke of his delight at the result.
“Max Verstappen is the world champion, we’ve welcomed him home to Red Bull Racing today and I think really it is time to move on,” Horner said prior to Mercedes’ decision to withdraw their appeal. “Hopefully he’ll receive the trophy tomorrow evening (at the FIA Prize Giving gala in Paris) and be crowned as the world champion. I’ve no indication otherwise – I haven’t spoken with Mercedes or the FIA to hear anything different at this point in time.
“The focus is on celebrating the success the team and Max have achieved this year. This is a dispute between the FIA and Mercedes.
“If the unthinkable were to happen we would obviously challenge that in the appropriate manner, but as far as we’re concerned Max has been crowned as the world champion, we’ve not heard anything to say otherwise, and I fully expect him to pick up that trophy tomorrow evening.
“I know a lot of people are caught up in the actions of the last five laps of Abu Dhabi – but when you look at the 22 races, he is without a shadow of a doubt an extremely deserving world champion.”
Horner also said he, like Verstappen, had received a congratulatory text from Wolff after the race: “I congratulated him on winning the constructors’ world championship and reminded him that’s where the money’s paid. I haven’t heard (from) or spoken with him since.”
On Thursday, Wolff confirmed that neither he nor star driver Hamilton - who was knighted at Windsor Castle by the Prince of Wales on Wednesday - will attend the FIA Prize Giving Ceremony in Paris tonight.