Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton will go head-to-head one last time to decide who wins the 2021 driver's championship.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a massive disappointment, but some good came out of it. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will go into this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with the same points. Both have amassed 369.5 points during the 2021 season, though Max Verstappen is still technically in the lead. If both crash out as they did at Monza, the title would go to the driver with the most victories so far - Max.
Looking back at the entire season, Max Verstappen was more consistent. Almost every time he stepped on the podium, it was first or second. He never got on that third step. He did not finish in the British GP following an infamous incident, and both of them scored zero points at Monza for an equally infamous incident. The lowest Verstappen placed was 9th, in the Hungarian GP.
Hamilton finished 7th in Monaco, 15th in Azerbaijan, 4th in the Austrian GP, 3rd in the Belgian, and 5th in the Turkish GP. It's pretty clear that Verstappen has been more consistent, but there's more at play here than any one factor.
The last and only time two competitors were level going into a final Grand Prix was 1974. Clay Regazzoni (Ferrari) and Emerson Fittipaldi (McLaren) were tied on 52 points heading into the 15th race in the US. Regazzoni's car had problems, taking him out of the competition. Fittipaldi finished in fourth place, scoring three points and securing the driver's championship.
Though the fans don't agree on many things, we can all agree that this season has been epic. For the first time in nearly a decade, Mercedes had some proper competition. We can see it looking at previous results. In 2019, Hamilton won the championship with 413 points, followed by Valtteri Bottas on 326 points. Max Verstappen finished in third place on 278 points. The 2020 season was interrupted by the COVID-19 virus, but the drivers finished in the same order, with another vast points gap between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
F1 is hugely boring when there's only one dominant force. We should all thank Red Bull for at least bringing some much-needed excitement to the racing this year.
Yas Marina is well-known to racing fans by now. The inaugural race took place in 2009, and Red Bull took the victory with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel. It's an older track, but it currently has no lap record holder. This year, the track was shortened to 3,3 miles, which means the record is up for grabs.
Like the two other UAE tracks, Abu Dhabi is fast. It has three straights, with the longest being a full 1,2 kilometers (0,75 miles).
We know Hamilton has a faster car down the straights, but Verstappen can be faster through the corners. Last weekend, Verstappen demonstrated his pace at the Saudi Grand Prix, but he was on a softer compound tire. If Red Bull makes the right tire choices, the straights and corners might balance each other out, resulting in a level playing field. As with the Saudi Grand Prix, we'll have to wait for FP1 to see whether the Red Bulls can match the Mercedes' pace.
Looking at their Saudi Arabian Grand Prix performance, we have no idea who's in better mental shape. Both drivers seem to be cracking under pressure, despite the British media's attempt to champion their driver.
Once again, both drivers demonstrated unprofessional behavior on the track. Verstappen drove dirty, even though there were at least two moments of brilliance. He is good enough to beat Hamilton without resorting to dirty tactics, so why race like you have no respect for your own safety or those around you? But before you choose a side, let's look at the defending champion's performance in recent races.
Hamilton fanboys say that he was cooler under pressure, but no. His constant complaining over Red Bull's tire change under the red flag was unwarranted. It's something he has also benefitted from before. Then there was the endless whining over the radio and holding up the pack, trying to cool Verstappen's tires before the restart, and then driving into the back of Verstappen when there was enough room to land a Boeing on either side of him. His performance was equally disappointing and amateurish.
Both top-tier drivers behaved like schoolboys, resorting to dirty tactics instead of racing in a way that we know both are capable of. We hope both took some time to reflect on their performance and what's at stake in this final race.
We've seen a few rumors suggesting that Red Bull will be making a slight adjustment to the car's floor to reduce drag. This change was reportedly tested on Sergio Perez's car at the Saudi Grand Prix but was removed because it reduced grip in medium-speed corners. Whatever this small adjustment is, it may be better suited to the updated Yas Marina circuit. If Red Bull does have the option of making this small change, it will likely be tested in free practice before the team commits to it.
The best Red Bull can hope for now is that Hamilton slips up at some point during free practice or qualifying. A driver can receive two reprimands, and on the third, a ten-place grid penalty will apply if two of those reprimands are driving offenses.
Hamilton received a warning in Saudi Arabia for preventing Mazepin from completing a fast lap. In Mexico, he failed to comply with instructions from the stewards.
Do we want this to happen? No. It would be a massive middle finger to the fans expecting an epic battle on Sunday. But Red Bull could possibly use this to its advantage…
If Max Verstappen wanted to, he could end the title fight on lap one. He could cause an accident and make it look like an actual accident, taking them both out of the race. A few big names have already expressed concern about this, most notably Damon Hill. He would, since Michael Schumacher used the same tactic on him. The late, great Ayrton Senna also used this method.
Verstappen is still young and hungry to win, but is he willing to do it and live with the consequences? We don't think so. Yes, he has a habit of putting pressure on other drivers, and sometimes the results are dangerous. But there's a big difference between driving dangerously and intentionally causing an accident.
We don't think Verstappen will do it. The number one reason, we believe, is that he's keen to race. He may be overenthusiastic, but he seems to want to win by racing rather than by default. Since this is a hot topic, you can rest assured that both teams will be talking to their drivers about it.
Lewis Hamilton will be extra cautious, and any incident will be scrutinized for days. Even the slightest incident will count against Verstappen, given his reputation. The most likely result of a crash will be losing all his accumulated points and millions of fans' respect.
We just can't see him taking the risk.
One thing is for sure: Valtteri Bottas will finish in third. He's got that place neatly wrapped up after Sergio Perez's DNF last week. Perez could get third if he wins and Bottas doesn't finish higher than fifth. That's highly unlikely.
Red Bull still has a chance to win the constructor's title, but only if both Mercs don't finish. Also highly unlikely.
As for the driver's championship, it's tough to call. We won't chicken out, however.
We predict that Sir Lewis Hamilton will receive his eighth driver's championship, making him the driver with the most wins and championships.
Why are we leaning towards Hamilton? Well, he has made some amateur mistakes this season, displaying the kind of behavior we'd expect from a rookie. But has also shown that he can read his opponent better and knows what to expect. He also has a faster car and a more competitive teammate on his side.
If he wins this championship, he may just get that Mercedes-AMG One he ordered as a bonus, but we're sure that bragging rights would be more than enough this year.