Hamilton vs Verstappen: Fantasy Turned Reality
Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen. The title race is as close as ever. What have been the highs and lows of this duel? Who is in the best form right now? Who do you expect to win it? Will Usherwood-Bliss gives us his take.
Let me begin with a film we all know and love (or at least, I do): Cars 3.
Seven-time World Champion Lightning McQueen is reaching his twilight years, yet he is still at the top of his game. Winning races left, right and centre, he is by far the main man in the sport. That is until a new boy shows up on the block, Jackson Storm. Storm comes out of nowhere to be the fastest guy on the grid, joined by a handful of new elite rookies who push McQueen to the edge, forcing him to pull every trick out of his well experienced book to pull off a comeback on the final race of the season.
Fast forward to 2021, and seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton is reaching his twilight years, yet still dominates the sport. That is until Max Verstappen and a handful of young drivers such as Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly and Norris push Hamilton to his limits, going down to the final race of the season.
Throughout F1’s golden history, there have been some legendary title fights: Hunt vs. Lauda, Senna vs. Prost, Alonso vs. Schumacher, Hamilton vs. Massa, the list goes on. For the last 7 years, Mercedes have dominated the sport, and title fights of these magnitude have seemed a thing of the past; the closest we got was Rosberg vs. Hamilton, but even then, they both drove for the same team. This year, however, couldn’t have been any different if it tried, as we finally have what F1 fans have been fantasising about for nearly a decade: an actual season long title fight.
Right from the first race in Bahrain, it was clear this season was going to be back-and-forth. Albeit Verstappen looked fastest, Hamilton managed to work his way up to take the victory in the closing stages of the race. From then on, it has been a shoot-out, with Hamilton and Verstappen winning 7 and 9 of the 20 total races respectively.
As we proceed into the last two races in Saudi Arabia Abu Dhabi, it is all to play for. The points tally currently stands at 351.5 – 343.5 to Verstappen. Not only is this insanely close for the last two races of the season, but it could make for a very interesting final race: if Hamilton were to win in Saudi Arabia with fastest lap, and Verstappen were to come second, then they would be tied for the final race of the season. Game on.
This outcome would not just make for one of the greatest title conclusions of the 21st century, but is also very likely. Since Brazil, Mercedes have installed a brand-new upgraded power unit, giving them an average of 20km/h extra on the straights, perfect for a track like Saudi Arabia, featuring very few overtaking opportunities. This truly is lining up to become a fantasy for F1 fans.
Of course, Verstappen could win the title at the end of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, but the chances of Hamilton falling out of the Top 10, let alone not grabbing pole and winning, is slim given the track’s nature. So, the question remains, what is my prediction?
As a Brit, you would expect me to back the hometown hero from Stevenage; yet, I would personally love to see someone else grab the title after so long. My honest expectation is that Verstappen will grab the title in Abu Dhabi, a bold claim perhaps, but the reasoning makes sense.
Albeit Abu Dhabi also favours Mercedes, we have seen upsets there before. Last year, for instance, Verstappen was untouchable that weekend, taking a decisive win at the season’s conclusion. Not only that, but when the Red Bull strategy goes well and Christian Horner chucks his ego in the bin, Red Bull are unstoppable. We’ve seen it this season before: Styria, Austria, the Netherlands, France. When Verstappen is on top form, he cannot be beaten. However, it is my expectation that the decider will rely on the shoulders of two drivers no longer in contention: Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas. To truly shift the tide, Mercedes and Red Bull will need their second drivers to be in the middle of the fray, something which seems to be on or off each weekend.
While Max and Lewis consistently perform with their machinery, their teammates seem to lack that skill. Be it scraping an entry into Q3, or slow pace on Sundays, both teams struggle with their pairings. To ensure victory in the following two races, Mercedes and Red Bull will need both cars on form in order to gain the strategic advantage. This being said, regardless of the winner, it is undeniable that this season has been brilliant to watch. The perfect way to round off this era of the sport: two drivers going toe to toe week in week out, filled with dramatic crashes, surprise performances, and all the Twitter beef you could possibly want.