Since 1974, the Formula 1 World Championship did not reach the last race with two drivers tied for first place. At that time, Emerson Fittipaldi beat Clay Regazzoni. Now, for the second time in history, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton arrive in Abu Dhabi with 369.5 points each in the standings. The former seeks his first title at age 24 and break the hegemony of seven consecutive Mercedes championships; the latter wants to win his eighth World Championship, thus surpassing Schumacher and becoming the rider with the most titles in history. Everything prepared for an exciting weekend like few have been in the Great Circus.
With the tie, the accounts are clear: whoever finishes the Abu Dhabi race ahead, wins the World Cup. Hamilton is only worth staying ahead of Verstappen, and vice versa. Although there is also another case that can occur, especially seen throughout the year: if the two drivers quit, the champion would be Verstappen, since he has nine victories this year, one more than Hamilton, which would break the tie.
The initial advantage goes to Max Verstappen, who took pole position after a sensational lap, in which he took advantage of the slipstream of his teammate Checo Pérez. And the difference with Hamilton, who will start second, has not been especially small: three tenths between the two contenders. The battle will be, predictably, in the strategies, since Hamilton will start with the mediums, while Verstappen will do it with the softs, so he is expected to start better and have a higher rhythm in the first laps.
They will not be able to count, at least at the beginning, with too much help from their teammates, since Pérez will start fourth, and Bottas will start in sixth place. Carlos Sainz slipped in between with a great lap, and Norris took third place. The next meeting between Hamilton and Verstappen will be in the first corner after the start, where who knows what could happen with a World Cup in dispute.
Because no, it is not far-fetched to think that there may be a clash between the two title contenders in the final race. History has shown it: Senna and Prost collided in two different years in which they played the World Cup. So did Schumacher twice, who did well against Damon Hill, but not against Jacques Villeneuve, as the Kaiser was disqualified from the championship for it. This last fact could be repeated, and even the FIA has warned in the previous days with the possibility of subtracting points from a pilot if he commits a serious unsportsmanlike action. Knowing this, Verstappen might not be worth forcing an accident.
A year full of incidents and controversy
And, seeing the history that Hamilton and Verstappen bring this year when they have crossed on the track, it is not at all unreasonable that something could happen. There are several encounters they have had this season. In the first race, in Bahrain, the Red Bull overtook the British off the track, so he had to return the position for Hamilton to finally win. Also in the second Grand Prix, at Imola, they met at the first corner, and a very aggressive Verstappen forced the Mercedes to go outside.
These mishaps were not given too much importance, and in the meantime other relevant episodes were happening, such as Verstappen’s puncture in Baku when he was going straight to victory. With the Dutchman leading the World Cup and becoming a serious title contender, it all exploded at Silverstone. Max and Lewis met again on the track, on the first lap of the race. In a corner, Hamilton entered slightly past, impacting with Verstappen, who finished in the barriers. The Briton received a 10-second penalty, considered unfair by Red Bull, which did not prevent him from winning at home while the Dutchman was taken to hospital.
Far from calming down everything, in the following race, in Hungary, Verstappen also abandoned after being hit by a Mercedes, this time by the one of Bottas. The World Cup was tightening, and in Spa the rain prevented it from running, but despite this, Verstappen was given as the winner for having pole and half the points were distributed, something that the other riders did not like too much. And in the following race, at Monza, a new crash and abandonment of both after Hamilton did not leave room for Verstappen, who, far from giving up, tried to sneak in. He ended up with his car on top of the Mercedes, and received a three-position penalty for the next test.
In case the storm was not powerful enough, it also led to accusations between the teams. Toto Wolff and Christian Horner entered the scene to fight their own battle. Red Bull suspects Hamilton’s new engine from Brazil, which has given him power not seen so far this year. Also in Brazil, Red Bull complained about the rear wing of the German team, which resulted in a disqualification for the seven-time champion, who had to start last, climbing to first place and overtaking Verstappen on the track, who in a dangerous maneuver him he threw off the court, although he received no sanction in a controversial decision.
The latest mess, for the moment, came last week in Saudi Arabia, where there was everything. Hamilton leaving no space for Verstappen, the one from Red Bull overtaking on the outside and forced to return position, which he did in a fearful way, braking in the middle of the straight as confirmed by the FIA. Hamilton did not want to overtake him to keep the DRS, and ended up colliding with him after a new braking. The victory went to Lewis, which allowed him to reach Abu Dhabi tied. After the year, the conclusion is that every time they are on the track there is a mess, so who knows what could happen this Sunday.
Who gets better?
A seasonal roller coaster in every way, also in car performance. The year started like the last seven, with Mercedes dominating and Hamilton scoring three wins in the first four rounds. Red Bull and Verstappen reacted with five wins in a row, four for the Dutchman, who took the lead and became a World Cup favorite. For the first time in years, Hamilton was on the ropes and didn’t seem to have the fastest car. After Verstappen’s victory in Mexico, the ninth of the year for him, his advantage was 19 points, and everything was in his favor. But Mercedes has hit the mark with its new engine, giving Hamilton three victories in a row in the three pre-Abu Dhabi rounds, to add eight wins this year and come tied.
And who is favored by the circuit that will decide the World Cup? It is also a mystery, because this year the track has presented a reform in three points to facilitate overtaking and spectacle, something that Abu Dhabi has always lacked. Let them tell Fernando Alonso in 2010, when he got caught in the wake of Vitaly Petrov. It remains to be seen how Red Bull and Mercedes adapt to the new corners, although due to the characteristics of the circuit, it is expected that the differences will be minimal.
Not everything will be the duel between Max and Lewis
And other very interesting battles will also be fought in Abu Dhabi. The Constructors’ World Cup is looking for a champion between Mercedes and Red Bull. The team of the silver star has everything to face to take it, since it leads those of energy drinks by 28 points. Only a Mercedes debacle would prevent them from taking the title that gives so much money to the teams. There is also a passionate battle for fifth place, the first of the rest, in the Drivers’ World Championship between Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, separated by just nine points. The Madrilenian has completed a very good debut year at Ferrari, not an easy task. He has always been very close to his teammate, one of the best drivers on the grid, and he has shown that he can be at the top if his car allows it.
The return season of Fernando Alonso will also end. The Asturian, who returned to the Gran Circo this year two years later, took a few races to adapt, but since then he has made the most of his Alpine, which has gone from less to more. The best news for Fernando was his podium in Qatar, the first he has achieved since 2014. Now he will have to focus on carrying out ‘The Plan’, that “strategy” that he himself defends, based on the hope that the French team will do this winter a car that allows him to fight for the title in 2022.
A 2022 that will bring with it a new era, with a profound change in car regulations, which seeks to increase the spectacle on the track. But that is still a few months away, and now the focus is on the stellar event in Abu Dhabi, which will decide the champion of one of the most exciting seasons in living memory. Hamilton or Verstappen, only one can win, and we’ll find out on Sunday.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.