YEDA, Saudi Arabia (AP) – The exciting Formula One title contest between reigning champion Lewis Hamilton and his formidable challenger, Max Verstappen, will be defined in the final race of the season with the two fierce rivals even on points.
Next weekend’s duel in Abu Dhabi will determine whether Hamilton sets a record with his eighth title or whether Verstappen conquers his first.RELATED
Hamilton’s victory in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday was his third in a row to equal Verstappen, both with 369.5 points. Another win would put the veteran British driver ahead of Michael Schumacher.
Verstappen leads by a hair, by virtue of his favorable balance of victories: 9-8.
“It’s certainly exciting,” said Verstappen, “who won in Abu Dhabi last year. “We are going to start as we started the season.”
The night-time race on the 30-kilometer street circuit in Jeddah seaside resort saw a couple of restarts, multiple Safety Car entries and an intense tug-of-war between title rivals that included a splash from their cars.
Red Bull received the benefit of negotiating a penalty for Verstappen, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff whipped his headphones in a fit of rage and Hamilton eventually displaced his opponent with six laps to go.
Verstappen, whose championship lead has evaporated in the past three races, reacted disappointed.
“What happened today is incredible,” said the Dutch driver. “I’m just trying to run. This sport is now more about penalties than racing. For me, this is not Formula One ”.
Despite the victory, Mercedes did not give credit either.
“Lewis, that must be the craziest race I can remember,” the Hamilton engineer commented on the team radio after crossing the finish line.
“Fantastic job, guys!” Hamilton replied. “This is how it should be. We have to keep going!”
Hamilton took several moments to recover from his 103rd career victory.
Cast, Hamilton went to sit next to his physical trainer, covering his face with a towel before the ceremony on the podium.
“I’ve been racing for a long time, but that has been incredibly tough,” said Hamilton, who will turn 37 next season. “I have tried to be as subtle and as tough as possible. With all my racing experience over the years, I just tried to keep the car on the track and be clean. That has been difficult. We persevere as a team ”.
Verstappen was penalized for running off the track on the second restart and was ordered to relinquish position to Hamilton, but the Briton rammed the rear of the Red Bull and damaged the wing of his Mercedes.
The two pilots had points of view diametrically opposed to what happened. Verstappen had to appear before the stewards after the race.
“I didn’t understand why he suddenly hit the brakes so hard, and then I hit the back of him,” said Hamilton, who was not informed by Mercedes that Verstappen had to give him the lead.
Hamilton also uttered a vulgar word when describing Verstappen as “crazy” and calling his rival’s handling “dangerous”.
Verstappen said Hamilton took the blame.
“I stopped myself, I wanted to let him pass. I did not want to pass and then the touch was given, “said Verstappen. “I don’t really understand what has happened.”
Wolff later explained that the team did not inform Hamilton in time that Verstappen was going to let him pass.
Once the seven-time champion left Verstappen behind, Hamilton dominated at will.
Sergio Pérez, Sebastian Vettel, Nikita Mazepin, George Russell and Mick Schumacher were unable to complete the race due to all the incidents on the second longest circuit on the calendar. It covers 6.2 kilometers (3.8 miles) with 27 corners and was ready just days before F1’s debut in the country.