'It's like Hollywood has written the script': Coulthard and Massa on Abu Dhabi F1 showdown


Felipe Massa knows what it means to fight Lewis Hamilton for an F1 title at the final race of the season, and David Coulthard has had a front-row seat for plenty of those battles. They give their views on the Abu Dhabi showdown

Max Verstappen surrounded by cameras ahead of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Verstappen arrives for first practice at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

After one of the most extraordinary seasons in recent memory the 2021 World Championship comes down to a straight fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

In contrast to most past battles there are no dropped points to consider, no percentages to be played by one or the other of the contenders targeting a safe third or fourth.

Whoever finishes ahead will win the title – and if neither scores it will go to Verstappen on the tie-break of race wins. Unless the contest ends in an accident and the FIA follows up on its threat of taking points away should any contact between the pair be deemed deliberate…

It’s a fantastic scenario to find ourselves in after a gruelling 22-event season, and it was set up by that incredible night race in Saudi Arabia last Sunday.

“Abu Dhabi can only disappoint because we can’t have that much entertainment in one race again”

The two contenders going head-to-head for the duration, and even surviving that controversial collision in the straight, left even seasoned former drivers breathless.

“Max confirmed that he’s one of the hardest racers and best wheel-to-wheel racers out there,” says David Coulthard. “Lewis confirmed again that even when he does have contact, like he did with [Esteban] Ocon and when he did with Max, he’s so good that he’s able to minimise the damage.

“So it’s like Hollywood has stepped in and tried to write a script for how we headed to Abu Dhabi. In a way, Abu Dhabi can only disappoint, because we can’t have that much entertainment in one race again. And equally someone is going to be left without a title. And I think they both deserve the title.”

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen side by side at the 2021 Saudi Arabain Grand Prix

Hamilton and Verstappen are level on points after 21 races, but one driver has to win

Lars Baron/Getty Images

“The show was great,” says Felipe Massa of the Jeddah race. “I mean, unfortunately, we had these red flags, which is never fantastic. And VSCs for some debris on the ground, parts of the car.  Apart from the red flags I think it was a great show, a great race, with some good fights.

“We’re going to the last race, zero points difference, it’s just unreal. That’s what all of us want to see, a fight until the last race of the season. Maybe the last corner! The season we have this year is just fantastic.”

We can all have opinions but few are better qualified to comment about on-track behaviour than former drivers who have been there and done it.

“For me, Max passed a little bit the limit,” says Massa. “I was not on the radio, I didn’t hear if the FIA said in the right way for him to let Lewis by. But I mean, they touched each other a few times. So I really agree with the penalty.

Related article

“The second start, Max didn’t do a good start. And he just threw the car like, if I crash, I crash. So I think maybe he’s passing a little but the limit. But that’s the way he is.

“The only thing is that I didn’t see him making any mistakes this season until qualifying in Jeddah. I’m not talking about the fight with Lewis, I’m just saying normal mistakes. I don’t know if he’s feeling a bit the pressure or not.”

“I think that Max and Lewis both have to do everything they can, and then see what the stewards decide,” says Coulthard. “Running it into Turn 1 and going wide, for me the fact that Lewis was beyond the white lines as well, then the stewards have to decide, was he forced wide, and therefore a penalty is applied? Or did he just go wide in trying to defend the place?

“Because let’s be honest, if that’s the case, you could when someone’s trying to overtake you, and you see they’re going wide, you could just drive off the circuit, and say you were driven off the circuit.

“Clearly when Max slowed down to let Lewis past, Lewis was confused, he hadn’t been given the information. And he almost followed him like a heat-seeking missile to the point he realised that he was slowing down even more. So in that case, it’s a question of a miscommunication.”

Lewis Hamilton hit Max Verstappen in the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

A collision of miscommunication, says Coulthard

Lars Baron/Getty Images

Coulthard thinks that there should perhaps be a tweak to the FIA comms system.

“A call went to Red Bull to tell them to give the place back,” says the Scot. “But then that information never got to [Mercedes sporting director] Ron Meadows quickly enough. And we had Michael Masi saying, ‘No, I told you.’ It’s quite remarkable that we’ve got that insight on TV.

“Clearly in that situation, the communication by radio doesn’t work.  So what I would say is, for all the drivers if it’s a red flag, yellow flag, blue flag, the race director pushes a button.

Related article

“That information goes to all the teams, all at the same time. So for really critical transfer of information, it clearly doesn’t work telling the team, the sporting director, and then the sporting director telling the driver. That needs to be tidied up. So I think we all learn from the situation.”

So what of this weekend? We’re all hyped up about further wheel-to-wheel action and potential contact, but in the end it could simply come down to pure performance, and which of the two drivers is able to get out ahead and stay there.

“You’ve got to say the momentum is definitely very much with with Lewis,” says Coulthard. “He looked like he had the quicker car [in Jeddah] when he was behind. But Abu Dhabi is a track that Max has been pretty strong at in the past.

“So I think what it says is we have to see who dials the car in. There’ll be a number of factors that come into play, tyre compounds, track temperature. Basically the past form, leaves it wide open.”

“Let’s see what’s going to happen,” says Massa. “I don’t know if both of them will finish the race! So but I think we need to understand also how the cars are going to be on the track. I think maybe the first and second sector can be Mercedes sectors, maybe the last sector will be a Red Bull sector.”

Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa ahead of 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix

Massa and Hamilton ahead of their 2008 showdown in Brazil

Grand Prix Photo

Having fought Hamilton for the 2008 title Massa has an intriguing insight into his former rival.

“He’s a driver that has all of the records in F1,” says the Brazilian. “So this is clear. And also with a lot of experience that he has. I think he’s just showing that to beat him is quite difficult.

“For sure Mercedes made a good step in the car. But what he is showing is impressive. I was in Mexico, and after Mexico, he changed. He was not looking great after Mexico.

“When he arrived in Brazil. I think he had all of the fans for him, I think really, he changed completely. And after that he’s just unbelievable. So I would say this is also shows that he looks really strong for the last race of the season.”

Will we have another thrilling contest on Sunday, or will one or the other seize the advantage and have a (relatively) calm and collected run to victory and the title? I can’t wait to find out…