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Hamilton vs. Verstappen: Title rivals cautious of being on collision course in Abu Dhabi showdown

Tied at 369.5 factors apiece heading into the ultimate race in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are solely the second pair of main drivers within the historical past of the game to reach on the ultimate race stage on factors.

The solely earlier case got here in 1974, the place Emerson Fittipaldi’s fourth place end was sufficient to take the title over Clay Regazzoni on the United States Grand Prix in a race marred by the deadly crash of Austrian driver Helmuth Koinigg.

F1 is not any stranger to dramatic finales, although the unparalleled dominance of Mercedes lately has quashed the thrilling showdowns that followers savor. Only as soon as within the final six seasons has the championship combat gone to the final race, and even that was to determine which of Mercedes’ two drivers would take the title in 2016.

But this season could be remembered as one of the crucial thrilling in historical past. This weekend’s face-off in Abu Dhabi will convey down the curtain — momentarily — on one of the crucial gripping rivalries in sport this 12 months.

The pretender Verstappen versus veteran champion Hamilton; Red Bull versus Mercedes; workforce principals Toto Wolff versus Christian Horner — an array of dynamics have underpinned a title scrap fought intensely each on and off the observe from the outset.

Tale of the tape

The rivalry between the 2 drivers has simmered all season, effervescent over at varied factors.

At the British Grand Prix in July, the pair had been concerned in a high-speed collision on the opening lap that noticed Verstappen subsequently pressured to endure Hamilton’s jubilant celebrations from a hospital mattress — a precautionary measure.

The Red Bull driver tweeted that Hamilton’s celebrations had been “disrespectful and unsportsmanlike,” with Horner fanning the flames by labeling the Brit’s driving “fully out of order.”

Another collision adopted on the Italian Grand Prix — this time ruling each drivers out of the race. Hamilton alleged Verstappen had “pushed him large,” telling reporters that he felt “fortunate to be alive.”

If the warmth was excessive at Monza, eventually week’s inaugural race in Saudi Arabia, it reached inferno ranges.

An enthralling race — finally received by Hamilton to stage the factors heading into Abu Dhabi — noticed the pair come collectively on a number of events, climaxing with a weird crash that noticed Hamilton run into the again of Verstappen, who had been slowing to concede first place attributable to an earlier incident.

Hamilton accused his rival of “brake-testing” — an allegation that Verstappen rejected — and advised reporters that the 24-year-old was “over the restrict for positive.” The stress was palpable because the pair took the rostrum for the post-race trophy shows, barely an acknowledgment passing between them.

Verstappen and Hamilton collide in Saudi Arabia.

It is on this fiery context that the Abu Dhabi showdown looms, and with it, the priority that essentially the most tantalizing of finales may very well be determined by a collision. Leading Hamilton by 9 race wins to eight, Verstappen heads into this weekend realizing that ought to neither driver end, he would theoretically take his maiden championship.

Shadows of Schumacher

Not solely are there the precedents of incidents this season, but additionally in historical past — each involving Michael Schumacher, a legendary racer typically in comparison with Dutchman Verstappen because of their aggressive driving model.

In 1994, championship leaders Schumacher and Damon Hill headed to the ultimate race in Australia separated by a degree. On lap 36, Schumacher hit a wall and upon reentering the observe, collided with the overtaking Hill, inflicting each to finally retire from the race.

The collision was deemed a racing incident by stewards and Schumacher took his first of seven world titles, however three years later, one other collision in his ultimate race noticed a special consequence.

Leading Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve by a degree earlier than the finale in Spain, Schumacher was deemed to have purposely become the overtaking Canadian in a collision that put the German out of the race. Villenueve took the title with a 3rd place end, and Schumacher was later stripped of his factors for the season.

A TV picture released by the German RTL station shows the incident during the European Grand Prix where Michael Schumacher (L) collided with Jacques Villeneuve.
In his race notes forward of Abu Dhabi, race director Michael Masi made particular references to quite a few clauses involving honest racing, warning of the potential for factors deductions in instances of “unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Masi reminded drivers of potential penalties for “any infringement of the rules of equity in competitors, conduct in an unsportsmanlike method or try and affect the results of a contest in a means that’s opposite to sporting ethics.”

‘To end first, you have to end’

Both sides have explicitly voiced their want to keep away from such a state of affairs, with Horner insisting yesterday that “Max needs to win this championship on the observe,” reiterating that his driver wouldn’t resort to crash ways in pursuit of his first championship.

“He’s a tough racer however a good racer, and I anticipate no totally different this weekend,” Horner advised the Times of London.

“Nobody needs to win this championship in a gravel entice or in a stewards’ inquiry. To end first, you have to end — that is been our mantra all through this season.”

Christian Horner and Toto Wolff talk in the paddock ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen echoed his workforce principal’s feedback on the pre-race press convention, telling reporters that drivers “don’t take into consideration these items.”

“You attempt to do the very best you’ll be able to and win as a workforce. I attempt to be the very best ready, and I’m attempting to win this weekend.”

Hamilton adopted swimsuit. “I am unable to management these items round me, simply my preparation and the way I conduct myself,” he added.

On the topic of factors deductions, the Brit admitted that he noticed any potential punishments as “honest,” however reiterated his want to win with out such interventions.

“It’s occurred up to now,” Hamilton stated. “I feel it is honest. Hopefully, it will not come to that.

“I’m right here to do my job and I do not wish to see the stewards any greater than they see me.”

Verstappen added: “I do know what’s within the sporting code, no one must be reminded of that.”

Neither will any sports activities followers want reminding of the place to be this Sunday. Collision or not, drama is assured.

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