But racing fans are inevitably drawn to the prospect of the two drivers coming together. Verstappen only leads in the championship courtesy of having won more races this year, but the psychological advantage is considerably greater. Hamilton knows that if both cars retire due to a racing incident, he loses the title. Verstappen knows that he’ll be champion, which is likely to result in a very different approach from both drivers.
Contact isn’t guaranteed to see Verstappen celebrating, though. Hamilton could continue, score points and be crowned champion, as happened to Villeneuve in Jerez, 1997, after he was swiped by Schumacher.
And a collision also threatens to involve stewards — as it did in Jerez — with the potential for championship points to be deducted a very real threat in the event of a title-deciding crash.
Reliability may also play an issue. Hamilton’s Mercedes was fitted with its fifth engine this year in Brazil. Can it see out the season?
Red Bull isn’t immune either. The car has appeared bulletproof this year, but it would just take a faulty tyre; a sticking wheel nut; a visor caught in an air intake; a mis-tightened connector; or a cracking rear wing to put him out of the race and allow Hamilton to take the lead (how do race engineers sleep at night?).
Finally, the spectre of Covid still looms, with testing still taking place throughout the paddock. All it would take would be an unfortunate contact in a departure lounge or hotel room and one of the title contenders could be ruled out of the race, leading to perhaps the most anti-climactic finale in F1 history.
How Lewis Hamilton can win the 2021 F1 World Championship
Hamilton can win in Abu Dhabi if…
|he finishes in the top eight, or in 10th position||and Verstappen||finishes behind him|
|he finishes 9th||and Verstappen||doesn’t get a bonus point for the fastest lap|
Making history rarely comes easily but Lewis Hamilton has already done most of the hard work in search of an unprecedented eighth world championship.
He’s come back from a 19-point deficit to Verstappen, won the Brazilian Grand Prix after starting at the back of the sprint race, and now goes to Abu Dhabi in almost the same situation as at the start of the season: level on points with the Dutchman.
That “almost” is critical, though: Hamilton knows that he has to score at least one point more than Verstappen to defend his title, and it means that the hard work is far from over.
Finishing ahead of Verstappen will guarantee the result he needs, unless Hamilton finishes ninth and Verstappen finishes immediately behind, while also recording the fastest lap of the race. In that scenario, both drivers would score two points.
However, given that 13 out of this year’s 22 races have seen the two drivers finish first and second, it’s likely that the championship fight will also be the battle for the race win.
While seeking to best his rival, Hamilton must, at all costs, remain in the race. If he retires, he loses the title. That is unless the stewards get involved, and there are very few fans or drivers who want to see that.
As with Verstappen, Hamilton will also be relying on his car running perfectly until the final lap and a negative Covid diagnosis.