The 2021 Formula One World Championship will no doubt go down as one of the most exciting and tense in F1 history.
After years of dominating the sport, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton looks like he might finally be unseated as World Champion by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. It would be the maiden title for the talented young Dutchman, and a record eight title for the brilliant Brit – which would officially secure him as the Greatest Of All Time and unseat Michael Schumacher’s record.
The title fight between the pair has been incredibly intense, with tensions between the two drivers and teams at breaking point. With one race left in the season – the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend – Verstappen and Hamilton are dead even on points. It couldn’t get more dramatic.
But how is it all likely to play out? We thought we’d take a look at the three most likely outcomes, and explore the nuances in each of those scenarios.
Right down to the wire
The most likely way things will play out is that they’ll finish 1-2. Verstappen and Hamilton have collectively won all but 4 races this season (Verstappen with 9 wins and Hamilton with 8) and the pair have been 1-2 on a majority of podiums this year, too. Naturally, that would be the most dramatic finish to the season and is probably what fans want.
Lewis has won the last three races, so you’d say the form is with him. That said, Max has more overall wins this season, and won the two before that. It’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top; the pair are so evenly matched.
They both have very good wingmen in Sergio Pérez and Valterri Bottas, too, and they’ll need their teammates’ help to secure the win. Mercedes‘ Bottas is arguably the stronger driver (and indeed is third in the points) but Pérez has a knack for pulling things out of the bag when the going gets tough. Pérez will also be at Red Bull next year while Bottas is moving on to Alfa Romeo in 2022, so maybe Bottas won’t feel as willing to stick his neck out for Hamilton.
Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit is notorious for being very hard to overtake on, which will make qualifying especially important, (although, as The Times reports, the track has been subtly redesigned this year to address this). Verstappen notably bottled his fastest qualifying lap in Saudi Arabia – he can’t do that again here. If either team can lock out the first two grid places, they’ll virtually guarantee themselves the win.
Cruising for a bruising
The second way it could play out is that one or both of them get knocked out of the race – probably by each other. Verstappen was forced to retire at the British Grand Prix after colliding with Hamilton, and both drivers were forced to retire after making contact in dramatic fashion at the Italian Grand Prix (see above). Verstappen was also penalised by the FIA for contact with Hamilton at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, a racing incident that continues to generate controversy.
With tensions as high as they are and the likelihood of a fierce fight almost inevitable, there’s a very good chance the pair will make contact again in Abu Dhabi, and one or both of them might be the worse off for it. Of course, both teams would have a fit if that happened. They don’t want it to happen, either: Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has related that he doesn’t want a “messy situation” in Abu Dhabi.
What we really don’t want to happen is for either Pérez or Bottas to cause an incident, either intentionally or not. That would be a “crashgate” to rival the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix or the 1997 European Grand Prix…
What if they tie?
The third way Abu Dhabi could pan out is if Verstappen and Hamilton somehow tied for points – which would be incredibly unlikely. The most likely way that could happen is if they finished 9th and 10th, and whoever finished 10th got the fastest lap… Or if they both finished out of the points, either due to retirement or some other incident.
In the event of a tie, FIA guidelines dictate that Verstappen be declared the winner, as he’s had more race wins than Hamilton this year (hopefully that doesn’t happen, as it would be an awful way to end such a good season). In that sense, Hamilton technically has more to race for.
That said, Hamilton probably has the psychological advantage going into Abu Dhabi. While cinching a record 8 titles would be legendary, Lewis is already a seven-time champion. If he loses to Max, it doesn’t detract from his legacy. But Max might be crushed by a loss. To come so close to the title just to miss out at the last minute… It could shatter him.
All we know is that it’s bound to be an amazing race.
The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will run from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th of December, with Practice 1 kicking off at 1:30pm local time on Friday.