This is what I wanted. This is what Formula One fans all around the world have wanted. The competition. The rivalry. The unpredictability. The ingredients for one of the most anticipated Formula One races…ever.
After 21 races, there is a tie in the Drivers’ Championship.
Fortunately, there is one more race left to go. Under the lights in Abu Dhabi. Winner take all.
Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen.
What’s going to happen? Who will win?
I DON’T KNOW.
As someone who has been waking up early on Sunday mornings to watch F1 races since the late 90s, I am overjoyed to see that more people – at least, in my part of the world – have discovered this sport and have become fans.
And if you still haven’t watched a minute of Formula One in your life, this is the race to watch.
In many ways, it’s the end of an era.
The regulations are changing next year. The cars will look different. There have been promises of closer racing and more passing. Drivers are changing places, again. Kimi Raikkonen is retiring.
That last one will be especially jarring. Kimi started his F1 career in 2001. He is synonymous with the sport. How will we get through a race weekend without seeing Kimi reluctantly answer questions in a disgruntled tone with half-enunciated words?
I don’t know, but we’ll get through it together.
Make no mistake about it, though, this race is about Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
They each have 369.5 points. If this were a movie, there’s no way the writers would have them go into the final race all tied up. Viewers wouldn’t find it realistic. It would be too “cliché sports movie” of them.
And yet, here we are.
The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi is one of my favourites, if only because I’m a sucker for sporting events that take place at night under the lights. Also, I’m pretty good at this circuit in video games, so that helps.
Some changes have been made this year to the layout of the track. A couple of chicanes – which I always found annoying in the video game – have been taken out in favour of a couple of hairpins, ensuring that speed takes no vacation during the race.
But seriously, say goodbye to downforce.
Will it be difficult to pass? Yes, but there are some opportunities.
Verstappen and Hamilton qualified first and second, respectively, of course. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez, starts 4th, while Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, starts 6th on the grid.
The first lap is always important and everyone will be watching Verstappen and Hamilton. And rightfully so. However, I’m curious to see if Perez and Bottas can move to the front quickly and provide their teammates with some support.
There has been some chatter this week that Verstappen should just crash into Hamilton and take him out of the race because if neither driver finishes the race, Verstappen would win the Drivers’ Championship based on race wins.
Personally, I don’t see that happening. Verstappen entered F1 with an aggressive style that lead to many reckless decisions early on in his career. The discussion around him was always about whether or not he could mature on the race track and adjust his style, so that when he went for a move, he wasn’t out of the race by the next corner.
He’s kept his aggressive style, but has eliminated the careless errors. That is why he’s in this position.
I know “crashing into your rival just to win the championship” is a juicy story that gets people talking, but I don’t see him intentionally doing that. Besides, he could be docked points if it’s determined he’s guilty, thus handing the championship to Hamilton. It’s just not worth it.
I doubt he wants to win his first championship and have an asterisk next to it.
I think this entire “crashing into Hamilton” storyline makes his job even more difficult because he and Hamilton have collided multiple times this season and don’t give each other an inch.
Now, if they come close in this race, everyone is going to look at it as if Verstappen is trying to initiate contact, or cause an incident, even if he isn’t. Because why would Hamilton do something that could jeopardize his car reaching the end of the race?
It’s going to be very interesting. Every second, every car placement, every radio message, and everything else you could possibly think of, is going to be under a microscope.
“Is he trying to take out his rival? Was that legal? Was that fair?”
I chuckle to myself when drivers argue over fairness. Yes, there are rules, but the drivers are so smart that they’re playing a game within the game at the same speed as their car. Just listen to their radio messages. They know how to passive-aggressively blur the lines between what is fair and what isn’t, while daring someone, anyone, to penalize them.
Plus, they know exactly where to park their car on the road, so an argument can be made that it was “fair”.
Hamilton is a seven-time World Champion, tied with Michael Schumacher for the record. He’s calculated. Listen to him talk to the media. Listen to his radio messages to the team while he’s in the car. A lot of the things he says are not meant for the person he’s talking to. They are a message for someone else.
He knows how to play the game.
The last six Abu Dhabi Grand Prix have been won by the the pole sitter. That’s a pretty good sign if you’re Max Verstappen. And yet, Hamilton’s Instagram caption was, “P2 on the front row tomorrow, not bad since I prefer the battle.”
Now, I’m not one to fall for statistics like that because I always believe anything can happen in sports. Patterns are patterns until they aren’t.
The words “I prefer the battle” are just wonderful. Hamilton’s playing the game.
If you were wondering, Max Verstappen’s post-qualifying Instagram caption was, “Pole is simply the best way to start the final race.”
This is some high stakes social media volleyball we’re witnessing for the low, low price of NOTHING. This is Formula One.
Verstappen is going for his first World Championship. All he has to do is finish the race ahead of Hamilton. That’s all. It sounds so simple.
Do we think either driver got much sleep last night? Because the anticipation is keeping me up and I’m not in the slightest way involved.
I am ready from the chaos, the drama, and the controversy.
I am not ready for this season to come to an end, but I guess that’s the only way to find out who will win. So, let’s do it.
Hamilton vs. Verstappen.
Winner take all.
My stomach is in my throat.