F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Hamilton, Max will go for broke

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (left) and Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen collide during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. — AFP
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (left) and Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen collide during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. — AFP

Dubai - The pair are level on points heading into the season's final race this weekend


James Jose

Published: Mon 6 Dec 2021, 11:32 PM

As the 2021 Formula One season hurtles towards the finish line, it remains to be seen who will be the last man left standing.

The 72nd running of the Formula One World Championship has witnessed the most intense battle in ages and is set for a dramatic conclusion at the season-ending Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend. A simmering rivalry between seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen has blown its lid and is threatening to spill over as the pair go wheel to wheel at the modified Yas Marina Circuit.

After 21 rounds spanning different continents, nothing separates the two and it all comes down to this one final race to decide who will be crowned world champion.

Following Hamilton’s victory at a chaotic inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday, both drivers are level on points — 369.5 points, although Verstappen leads on countback with nine wins to the Briton’s eight. It is the first time since 1974 when Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Reggazoni went head-to-head into the final round level on points, that this has happened.

Nonetheless, it will be a showdown like no other as Verstappen and Hamilton go for broke in this winner-takes-all battle.

And a titanic battle it has been, acrimonous at times, as they collided more often than not over the course of the season. It has been a no holds barred contest and spicing it up has been allegations and counter-allegations between the two teams and not to mention the verbal duel between the two team principals — Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner. This battle has had it all and could perhaps even put some of the soap operas to shade. This rivalry perhaps equates to the ‘Fight of the Century’ between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, except that this is a fight minus the boxing gloves.

Indeed, the gloves are off as Hamilton guns a record eighth title, one that will move him past the great Michael Schumacher, while young blood Verstappen is hungrier and eager to lay his hands on a maiden title, the first of perhaps many more.

And it is fitting that the ending to this epic tussle will be played out in the UAE capital, which first hosted a race in 2009.

In fact, Abu Dhabi is no stranger to deciding the world title. Of the eight times that the championship was decided in the final round — 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 — in the modern era, Abu Dhabi has been witness to it thrice in 2010, 2014 and 2016.

The 2010 race in Abu Dhabi was a four-way battle Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and teammate Sebastian Vettel with Hamilton too having a mathematical chance of winning the championship. And Vettel, then racing for Red Bull, won the race and went on to win the title to become the youngest world champion after Hamilton, Alonso and Webber finished second, seventh and eighth respectively, in the race.

Abu Dhabi also witnessed a scintillating battle for the championship in 2014 with Mercedes teammates Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locking horns in the season finale, which had offered double points for the race. And Hamilton strode to victory to clinch his second world title after 2008.

The 2016 championship too went to the wire with the same protagonists — Hamilton and Rosberg — battling it out before Rosberg finished second behind Hamilton in the race, to claim his first and only title. The German was to announce his retirement soon after the race.

So, another intriguing finish awaits and it remains to be seen who can hold the nerves and take the chequered flag.

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