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Lewis Hamilton wary of Max Verstappen tactics as 2021 title race goes down to season finale

·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton is wary he might not finish the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a thrilling and chaotic penultimate race in Saudi Arabia yesterday.

Hamilton sealed a hat-trick of wins at a pivotal point in the season and set the fastest lap to move himself level on points with Max Verstappen.

But Verstappen was branded “f***ing crazy” by his title rival after some questionable tactics, which led to a 10-second penalty for the Dutchman. And Hamilton warned he expected more of the same in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“For him, it doesn’t matter if we don’t both finish,” he said. “For me, we both need to finish but it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”

A DNF for both drivers would give a first world title to Verstappen by virtue of his nine grand prix victories to Hamilton’s eight with that one race remaining.

Twice in Saudi Arabia, Verstappen had to give back race position after being deemed to have gained the advantage illegally, while Hamilton twice had contact, first clashing with Esteban Ocon as Verstappen scythed past to take the lead and again in driving into the back of Verstappen.

It was that incident, which saw his in-race penalty of five seconds doubled by the race stewards afterwards, the move deemed “erratic” and one labelled as brake testing by Mercedes.

Both the race and events in the stewards’ office afterwards only intensified the bad blood between Mercedes and Red Bull, a captivating sideshow to the main event of the title battle.

The hope is it is not a championship fight that ends up with the Abu Dhabi rulemakers but Hamilton, who likened the tussle to being in the boxing ring, believes the racing authorities need to take a closer look at his rival’s tactics.


“We all know how to race, there’s only one of us who doesn’t,” he said. “In 28 years, I’ve come across a lot of different characters. And there’s a few at the top which are over the limit. Rules kind of don’t apply or they don’t think of the rules.

“Today I was just trying…to do it the right way. He’s over the limit, for sure. I’ve avoided collisions on so many occasions with the guy.”

Twice, a marathon grand prix had to be red flagged: first when Mick Schumacher crashed at turn 22 just 10 laps into the race and again following two incidents – Nikita Mazepin driving into the back of George Russell, and Sergio Perez crashing out after a coming together with Charles Leclerc.

Despite the 10-second penalty for Verstappen, it made no difference in the race standings with Valtteri Bottas 16s behind, although his third place gave Mercedes the ascendancy in the constructors’ championship, which will also go down to the season finale.

Verstappen, though, felt hard done by the penalty. “I’m just trying to race and this sport these days is more about penalties than about racing,” he said. “For me, this is not Formula 1 but at least the fans enjoyed it.”

He also denied any wrongdoing with his braking: “I slowed down. I wanted to let him by so I’m on the right but he didn’t want to overtake and then we touched. I don’t really understand what happened there.”

As has become customary, it paved the way for the barbs to be exchanged between the Red Bull and Mercedes hierarchy.

Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko complained the team were being unfairly punished. “We feel we are not treated the same,” he said. “It’s a very one-sided decision making here.”

Mercedes took their case to the stewards, Toto Wolff pointing out the telemetry that showed Verstappen had slowed down, sped up and slowed down again.

“It’s very, very hard, maybe over the line hard,” said Wolff of the incident. “We just want to have a clean championship – maybe the best man win – and, if it’s Max at the end, I have peace with that but it needs to be a fair race.”

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