The winner takes it all in Abu Dhabi

FORMULA ONE: You just couldn’t script it. After 21 innings, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are tied on points and brimming with animosity after an inaugural dynamite grand prix in Saudi Arabia last Sunday (December 5), and no one can guess who will be leaving Abu Dhabi with the championship. this week-end.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton face off in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last Sunday (December 5). Photo: AFP

Verstappen and Hamilton have crashed often enough this season that you can’t help but wince when these two Championship opponents meet on the right track, but even by their increasingly difficult standards Saudi Arabia has pushed rivalry on another level.

Hamilton needed to win the race to set up a win-win final round. If Verstappen were to triumph, only a dramatic portion of misfortune could deny him the title.

Hamilton had everything to lose. Verstappen did everything to deliver the fatal blow.

The Dutchman’s full-throated assault on the grand prix was evident in his supreme but unsuccessful attempt at pole. With his car dancing on the jagged edge of the grip, he was virtually assured of first place until the last corner, when he blocked and in a moment of overconfidence he slipped into the barriers as he was trying to get out.

But the race gave Verstappen a second chance, with a red flag giving him a free pit stop that took him from third to the lead.

Hamilton was furious and Verstappen was now using the narrow circuit to his defensive advantage.

On the restart, Hamilton pitched inside Verstappen, but the Dutchman wasn’t ready to cash. He cut through the chicane and rolled Hamilton wide, keeping his lead as he forced the Mercedes to slow down.

The pressure increased again on lap 37, when Hamilton grabbed the back of the Red Bull Racing car as it descended to the critical first corner and swept its exterior.

The Briton was ahead, but Verstappen pushed him deep to deflect them both, forcing Hamilton to withdraw.

It was a characteristic move of Verstappen, the kind Hamilton regularly withdrew to avoid a crash. But with two races to go, a season of pent-up frustration was about to erupt.

“That was fucking crazy, man,” Hamilton protested, and race control agreed, telling Verstappen to relinquish the position.

He tried to do this by squeezing the brakes in the long back straight in an attempt to recover the wake on the last corner and regain the lead. But the speed of closing on one of the faster sections of track caught Hamilton off guard and hit the back of the Bull.

It was the most bizarre flashpoint of the season and served to highlight the intensity of the unique fight for the championship – neither the rules, nor logic, nor the potential presence of other cars could extract this pair of fighters from their own personal duel. The trail may as well have belonged to them alone.

Verstappen made two attempts to cede his position strategically, and when Hamilton broke in he knocked his rival off the road, making sure he couldn’t be followed and sending a signal that he was done. to be pushed around.

“I have to really try to keep my cool there which was really hard to do,” Hamilton said after the race. “I’ve ridden a lot of riders in my life… and there are a few at the top who cross the line. The rules don’t apply or they don’t think about the rules.

“I’ve avoided collisions on so many occasions with the guy… it doesn’t matter to him if we both don’t finish. For me, we both have to finish.

Verstappen was slapped with one penalty for overtaking and one for improper driving, but refused to admit he had made a mistake.

“I’m just trying to run, and the sport these days is more about penalties than racing,” said Verstappen on his recovery lap. “For me, it’s not Formula 1.”

Animosity between the two has never been higher, and with a race to go, the permutations are simple: whoever finishes ahead in Abu Dhabi wins. If the two fail to finish, Verstappen wins in the countdown, and there is no doubt that the Dutchman will use this slimmer advantage to his advantage in the fight of his life, the standard of conduct debate be damned. .

This is the final that F1 has always wanted. The winner takes it all.

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