Following Sunday’s one-two finish for Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Jeddah, they head into a final race this weekend in Abu Dhabi tied on points. Sunday’s race was the craziest and most dramatic of the season, but one of the most remarkable races F1 has ever seen.
It has set Verstappen and Hamilton up for one of the sport’s most dramatic climaxes, both needing to work out how to deal with the other on track. But it makes the title maths easy, should one win, they would seal the championship. Jeddah was not without controversy, the two had no less than four flashpoints between them, including a collision.
The Red Bull driver was found guilty in two separate incidents and handed penalties for dangerous and/or unfair driving, totalling 15 seconds of race time in all.
Hamilton called his rival a “crazy guy” over the radio during the race – adding in a swear word for good measure – and did not take it back afterwards, even if he did admit that the comments were made in the heat of the moment, and he would “maybe feel differently” once he’d watched the race back.
Verstappen, for his part, repeated his belief that he was driving within acceptable limits but refused to be drawn too much on the various controversies. Despite the incidents on track, one thing was clear, Hamilton was the quicker car in the race before executing the better strategy. While Verstappen’s crash in Q3 could have changed things.
But the move was judged to be against the rules because Verstappen had passed Hamilton by going off the circuit. As it happened, the race was stopped immediately for a separate incident, and there followed the extraordinary sight of Red Bull negotiating with as to where Verstappen should line up for the restart.
In braze and baffling radio negotiations between Red Bull and race director Michael Masi, agreed where Verstappen should line up for the restart, which was third. But at the first corner Verstappen, dived down the inside with Hamilton forced to back off to avoid a Senna/Prost incident.
The penalty according to Red Bull was inconsistent, with Horner accusing the stewards of allowing Hamilton of getting away with pushing Verstappen off track. Saying “Lewis gives what he gets and he’s very wily with how he does it. These are two guys who are fighting over such fine margins pushing to the boundary. If you don’t want them to run wide, put a gravel trap there.”
Now for the collision on the run to the last corner.
Verstappen said: “I went to drive to the right side and I slowed down and I was braking and downshifting and he just stayed super-close behind me and I don’t really understand why. I was just trying to let him by. I’m just going slower and slower, pulling the downshift. We had a… oh I don’t know, a miscommunication or whatever and he ran into the back of me and that was it.”
Hamilton was asked why he had not just gone past Verstappen if he saw him slowing in front of him. Adding “One, it wasn’t clear. Two, I didn’t get the information [that he had to let me by]. Then it became apparent he was trying to let me past, which was what he had been asked to do, but before the DRS zone.”
“That would mean he would just DRS back past me. That was the tactic. The worst part was the heavy braking that happened at one point. That’s when we collided. That was the dangerous part.” That refers to the detection point, and Hamilton was referring to the fact that Verstappen could have retook the lead with DRS.
The stewards looked into this incident after the race. They gave Verstappen a 10-second time penalty and two penalty points on his licence.
In the big picture, the highest finisher in Abu Dhabi is the world champion, however, if neither finished Verstappen would be champion having taken nine wins with Hamilton only having eight.
The incident also plays into wider debate across the sport about the constancy of stewarding, but that’s a topic for another day. However, this championship will be decided in one way or another on Sunday in Abu Dhabi…