The F1 Title Is Defined By a Passionate Last Act

You have to tune in to Formula One.

After 21 races, the title fight is tied heading to the decisive test this Sunday in Abu Dhabi. For the first time since 1974, the championship leaders come even in points for the final heads-up between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

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The first driver to cross the finish line will be crowned champion.

A Hamilton title will give him a record eight, breaking the tie with the legendary Michael Schumacher. A Verstappen victory will give him his first title, a consecrating achievement that his father and guide, Jos, never achieved in his own racing career, which included a stint as a partner with Schumacher.

The producers of ‘Drive to Survive’, the Netflix documentary series that has fueled F1’s global popularity in recent years, must be licking their lips with the final act of their script. Few ventured to forecast such an exciting close to this sensational season.

Hamilton and Verstappen have been on the slopes all year long. His teams have been involved in dimes and diretes about almost everything. Up to two times in the season, both drivers caused crashes that damaged the opponent’s car.

Red Bull accused Hamilton of “reckless maneuvering” and “dangerous driving” when an impact at Silverstone caused Verstappen to be taken to hospital for evaluation. The two were unhurt, four races later, in a crash at Monza, with the car perching on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Verstappen’s ninth victory last month in Mexico City left him with a 19-point lead at the top of the drivers’ standings, with everything going for him.

Hamilton, winner of the last four championships, responded by stringing together three victories to equal Verstappen at the end of the first edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday.

F1’s first foray into Saudi Arabia produced a comedy of errors and indecisions. It included three starts for just the fourth time in F1 history, two red flags and the entry of the safety car multiple times. Five pilots dropped out due to crashes. In an unusual move, Red Bull received the benefit of negotiating a penalty against Verstappen. Toto Wolff became so desperate that he whipped his headphones. Hamilton rammed the rear of his rival and ended up winning the race.

Hamilton called Verstappen “crazy,” adding a vulgar phrase, for the sake of the team. Verstappen shut his mouth when asked to go full blast with his criticism of the race stewards.

“I don’t want to waste a lot of time on it because I don’t want to make headlines,” said the Dutchman. “They (the commissioners) don’t deserve it.”

They are two very different drivers on and off the track.

Hamilton, who turns 37 in January, is the only black driver in F1 and has spent the past two seasons using his global platform to address social and racial justice issues. He has also spoken out on human rights during the three-race stretch in the Middle East, sporting a rainbow-colored helmet as a gesture of solidarity to the LBGTQ + community and drawing attention to gay wedding legislation. After Monza, he flew to New York to attend the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala, where Hamilton acquired an entire table in support of black fashion designers.

His activism takes a back seat once he gets behind the wheel of his Mercedes.

Verstappen is just 24 years old, with a lot to learn. He is careful to fall into controversy and prefers video games to participate in parties. He has also displayed audacity on the track that Wolff has warned could lead to the championship being decided with one challenger taking the other out of the race.

After Sunday’s victory in Jeddah, Hamilton repeatedly mentioned his vast experience in F1 and his record of seven titles. Perhaps he was trying to intimidate Verstappen.

The two differ when discussing the competition rules. Verstappen came out of a curve to take the lead in Saudi Arabia, but was ordered to relinquish the position as punishment. In slowing down for Hamilton to pass, the Briton ended up hitting the rear of the Red Bull.

They avoided eye contact as they sat together at the post-race press conference.

On Sunday in Abu Dhabi, where Hamilton has won five times and Verstappen prevailed from end to end last year, the two will play everything for everything. Both teams are ready.

“It’s a skillet fight, that’s how it’s been all year,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “We have an opportunity and the time has come to take it.”

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