The most balanced season in Formula 1 in recent years can be set today, at 2:30 pm (GMT), in the rookie Saudi Arabia GP. The category may also have a new champion for the first time since Germany’s Nico Rosberg defeated Lewis Hamilton in 2016. This time, the possible executioner of the seven-time world champion is the Dutchman Max Verstappen – today, however, Hamilton will be starting in Arabia .
The Red Bull driver leads the championship with an eight-point advantage over his British rival: 351.5 against 343.5. To confirm the title today, he needs to at least finish second and hope Hamilton doesn’t move past 11th. The Dutchman can still be the champion if he is second and registers the best lap of the race (which gives extra points) as long as his opponent does not go beyond 10th position.
In case of victory, the title will belong to Verstappen if Hamilton does not surpass 7th place. If he wins and makes the best lap, the Mercedes driver could only finish sixth. If the championship leader finishes third, the decision will go to the last race of the year, the Abu Dhabi GP, in the United Arab Emirates, on the 12th.
The season is the tightest since 2010, when German Sebastian Vettel, Spaniard Fernando Alonso, Australian Mark Webber and Hamilton himself reached the last race with title chances. Vettel ended up lifting the trophy. It was his first title.
Today, Verstappen will be able to repeat the feat. “It’s been a great year for us. We had a lot of good times and it was fun. Last season was a bit boring for me because I couldn’t get past third place,” says the Dutchman, who owns nine wins in 2021 against seven for the rival. There were also nine poles for him and four for the Englishman.
Verstappen and Hamilton have spent the past few weeks being cautious and even exchanging praise. But on asphalt, the rivalry was hotter than the statements make it out to be. Disputes for position often extrapolated the traces, causing crashes and frightening incidents. At the Italian GP, the Dutchman’s car landed on top of the Englishman’s Mercedes, which only wasn’t at risk of death because it was protected by the halo, the structure above the drivers’ heads in the cockpit. In England and Brazil, the fight was tough. There are those who compare the duo with the rivalry carried out by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
The dispute became fiercer behind the scenes. The last few months were of exchanges of barbs between Christian Horner, head of Red Bull, and the discreet Toto Wolff, from Mercedes. After a controversial move by Verstappen on Hamilton in Brazil, which did not result in punishment, Wolff said that “the diplomacy is over”. The fight also involves the Constructors’ World Championship, led by Mercedes by just five points. The title earns an award that exceeds 100 million euros (R$ 641 million).
Verstappen and Hamilton reach the penultimate stage of the championship in different situations. The Englishman is in a better phase because he won the last two races, in Brazil and Qatar, and will race on a track that should favor the Mercedes car, which is faster on the straights throughout the year. The Dutchman has in his favor the unknown about the new Jeddah circuit