Formula 1 on the edge in a thrilling title fight

Now is the time to tune in to Formula 1, just in case you’ve slept through the most spectacular season in decades.

After 21 races, the battle for the championship is tied as F1 shouts in their decisive season finale in Abu Dhabi. This is the first time since 1974 that the championship leaders are at the same level before their last test on Sunday, which will be a duel between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

The first driver to cross the finish line will be crowned champion.

A title in Hamilton would be his eighth championship record, breaking a tie with F1 legend Michael Schumacher. A victory for Verstappen would be his first title, a crowning achievement his father, Jos, never achieved in his own F1 career, which included a stint as Schumacher’s teammate.

The producers of “Drive to Survive”, the Netflix docuseries that have helped F1 explode in popularity in recent years, must salivate over the final script. Few would have predicted such a compelling final act for this sensational season.

Hamilton and Verstappen have been going blow for blow all year round, going beyond reason on the track while pulling off the track to allow their respective teams to participate in bitter public feuds over just about anything. . Drivers have destroyed themselves twice this season – Red Bull accused Hamilton of making a ‘desperate move’ and ‘dangerous driving’ when a contact at Silverstone sent Verstappen to hospital for evaluation – and none of them. they were only injured four races later when they crashed at Monza. and Verstappen’s car landed on Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Verstappen’s ninth win of the season a month ago in Mexico City gave him a 19-point lead in the standings and apparent control of the title race. Hamilton, winner of the last four championships, went on to take three straight wins to tie with Verstappen in the standings after the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday.

F1’s first visit to Saudi Arabia was a comedy of error and indecision. The race featured three standing starts for just the fourth time in F1 history, two red flag stops and several safety cars. Five drivers withdrew from the race, Red Bull had an odd chance to negotiate a penalty for Verstappen, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff slammed his helmet in rage and Hamilton crashed into his rival’s back and won the race anyway.

Hamilton called Verstappen “crazy (expletive)” on his radio during the race, and Verstappen declined to give details of his criticism of Sunday’s refereeing.

“I don’t want to waste too much time on this because we don’t need to make the headlines about it,” sniffed the Dutchman. “They (the flight attendants) don’t deserve this.”

The two drivers couldn’t be more different on or off the track.

Hamilton, who turns 37 in January, is the only black driver in F1 and has spent much of the past two years using his global platform to fight social and racial justice. He has spoken openly on human rights issues during season end of three F1 races in the Middle East, wears a helmet to support the LBGTQ + community while raising awareness of laws against same-sex relationships and flew to New York after his accident at Monza to attend the Met Gala, where Hamilton bought an entire table to support black fashion designers.

His activism becomes secondary once he’s in his Mercedes and runs after the story.

Verstappen is only 24 years old and a little more raw around the edges. He’s not often drawn into controversy, prefers video games and pretend time to balls and fancy parties, and this season has shown fearlessness on the track which Wolff believes could lead to what the championship is decided by one competitor eliminating the other.

Hamilton after Sunday’s victory in Saudi Arabia has repeatedly referred to his extensive F1 experience and record seven titles. It could have been playfulness – Verstappen’s championship battles were in lower divisions and Hamilton could try to take the lead by shaking his rival’s confidence.

The two seem to differ on the rules of the race. Saudi Arabia’s Verstappen cut a corner to take the lead, but was then ordered to return the position as a penalty – and when he slowed down to allow Hamilton to pass him, Hamilton hit the back instead of Red Bull.

The two still disagreed as they sat side by side during the post-race press conference.

“From what I understand I know I can’t pass someone and go off the track and then hold onto position,” said Hamilton, “but I think that’s well known among all of us. pilots but that doesn’t apply to either of us, I guess. “

Verstappen didn’t flinch.

“I think lately we’ve been talking more about white lines and penalties than actual Formula 1 racing,” said Verstappen, “and I think that’s a bit of a shame.”

Come Sunday to Abu Dhabi, where Hamilton is a five-time winner and Verstappen led the 55 laps of last year’s dominant victory, the two will attempt to sort the issue out on their own without the involvement of race control. Both teams are ready.

“It’s a direct fight as it has been all year round,” said Christian Horner, Red Bull team manager. “We have a shot and it’s time to take it. “

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