Remarkable championship battle to be decided in Abu Dhabi showdown

By Sports Desk December 08, 2021

As far as title races go, there have not been many better than this season's tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

A remarkable 2021 campaign ends in Abu Dhabi this weekend, with the Formula One championship up for grabs.

With 369.5 points each, Hamilton and Verstappen do battle for the world title; the Briton is aiming for a record eighth crown, his Dutch counterpart hoping to scoop his first.

Three straight race victories in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have seen Mercedes' Hamilton catch up with Verstappen, who has nine wins to his rival's eight.

The rivalry has boiled over. Tempers have been frayed. Verstappen was slapped with two penalties for his actions in Jeddah on Sunday as the Red Bull driver finished in second.

Everything is up for grabs on Sunday. The drivers' championship and the constructors' championship. Indeed, it is the first time two teams have gone into the final race vying for glory since 2008.

There is no more room for error. The winner will take it all in the United Arab Emirates.

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton won an extraordinary Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a race that set new standards for drama.

Having clinched his 103rd pole in F1 in Saturday's qualifying session after a costly Verstappen crash, Hamilton held his nerve amid plenty of controversies.

Verstappen got ahead after the season's penultimate race was red-flagged twice in the first 16 laps, but a series of virtual safety cars kept Hamilton in touch.

With Verstappen going beyond track limits to keep the lead, he was instructed to give the place back, only for Hamilton to crash into the back of him. Verstappen then did give the lead back to Hamilton at turn 27, but did so in a DRS zone, allowing him to swiftly regain the edge, that move also deemed unsatisfactory by race officials.

A five-second penalty all but ended hopes of a win for Verstappen, with Hamilton also clinching the fastest-lap bonus point to make things all square heading to Abu Dhabi. Verstappen leads the way in the championship thanks to his nine wins, however.

It was a bad day for Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who crashed into a wall, with Valtteri Bottas' third-place finish leaving Mercedes with the advantage in the constructors' championship.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN ABU DHABI

Drama. Tension. Blood, sweat and tears? This title race has had more twists and turns than Monte Carlo, but all will be settled.

Should both title rivals finish out of the points – it would seem unlikely, though you never know – Verstappen would take the crown based on his nine wins.

Hamilton has thrown plenty of accusations of aggressive and dangerous driving the Dutchman's way, and it would be hard to argue against that given recent events.

Verstappen led this race from beginning to end last season, however. Can he harness that form and composure under the finest of margins?

Mercedes' dominance of the constructors' championship has seen them win seven in a row. They hold a 28-point lead as it stands, meaning even a Verstappen-Perez one-two, plus the fastest lap bonus, would not be enough to necessarily deny Toto Wolff and his team an eighth triumph.

Indeed, Red Bull would need the fastest lap time, a minimum ninth place for one driver and a race win combined to win the title even if both Mercedes cars fail to finish.

This is also the final race of Kimi Raikkonen's F1 career, with the 2007 world champion set for retirement. Bottas will be his replacement at Alfa Romeo, bringing an end to his stay at Mercedes.

TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

- Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni, in 1974, are the only other F1 title rivals to have gone into the last race of a season level on points. Never in the history of the championship has a season ended with two drivers tied at the top of the standings.
- Hamilton is the driver to have won the most races in Asia (3) and in the Middle East (15). This tally includes five victories and five pole positions in Abu Dhabi.
- Mercedes had won the previous six races in Abu Dhabi prior to Verstappen's victory in 2020. The Red Bull star is aiming to become the first F1 champion from The Netherlands, and he would be the fourth-youngest champion at the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days.
- Bottas is one podium finish away from equalling Rubens Barrichello as a non-championship winning driver to have achieved the highest amount of top-three finishes (68) in F1.
- Should Hamilton win, it will be a fourth race victory in a row, and would mean the Briton has achieved such a streak in six of the eight Hybrid Era seasons.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 369.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 369.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 218
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 158

Constructors

1. Mercedes 587.5
2. Red Bull 559.5
3. Ferrari 307.5
4. McLaren 269
5. Alpine 149

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