It’s hard to script a scenario like the one unfolding in Formula 1’s 2021 season. With just one Grand Prix left on the calendar, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has earned the same number of championship points as 24-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen. In 72 seasons of Formula 1 racing, the only other time two drivers had earned the same number of championship points heading into the year’s final Grand Prix came in 1974.
Verstappen broke into the sport at 17 and stands closer than ever to his first world title. He and Hamilton have jockeyed atop the standings all season long, with the championship lead changing hands four times across 21 races.
The drivers have crashed into each other at circuits in Great Britain, Italy and Saudi Arabia, inflaming tensions between Hamilton’s Mercedes-AMG-Petronas F1 team and Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing Honda team. Both teams have filed complaints and protests about the other’s driver behavior and race car specifications.
“There’s no relationship,” Red Bull Team Chief Christian Horner said when asked of his relationship with Mercedes during a November press conference. “It’s competition. I think respect and relationship are two different things. I don’t have to have dinner with [Mercedes Team Principal] Toto [Wolff], I don’t have to kiss his ass or anything like other team bosses would do.”
Reporters asked Verstappen in a media Zoom call if his opinion of Mercedes and Hamilton had changed over the course of the season.
“Yes, very much and not in a positive way,” Verstappen said.
Reporters asked Hamilton if he trusted Verstappen to race fairly in the season finale.
“As I said, just going into the weekend, I don’t put any energy towards that sort of thing,” Hamilton said. “At the end of the day, I do believe everyone here racing comes to win. I would like to believe everyone wants to do it in the right way, so I don’t even let that creep into my mind.”
Verstappen holds a tie-breaking advantage because he’s won one more Grand Prix than Hamilton in 2021. If Hamilton can score more points than Verstappen at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he’ll pass seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and become the only driver in F1 history with eight world championships to his name.
“I don’t know, at the moment, it just feels like another championship for me,” Hamilton said.