For just the second time in Formula 1 history, the top two drivers are level on points heading into the final race of the season. And it was even less likely to happen in 2021 than it was in 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi beat Clay Regazzoni to the title, because many more points are given out nowadays. When Fittipaldi won his second world title, he won with 55 points from Regazzoni’s 52.
This time, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are tied on an extremely specific 369.5 points. Verstappen has pole position thanks to his uber-consistent season, featuring nine wins, eight seconds, a ninth, five fastest laps and five points from the three qualifying sprints. Hamilton has come charging home, with three consecutive wins to bring his season tally to eight, plus seven seconds, a third, a fourth, a fifth, a seventh, six fastest laps and two points from a qualifying sprint. Perhaps it won’t be decided on the final corner, like Hamilton over Massa in 2008 – though who knows? – but the most thrilling title race since at least that famous season will find a conclusion in Abu Dhabi this coming weekend.
Not that the drivers’ championship is the only crown to be given out, with the constructors’ crown not yet locked up, plus there are crucial battles in the midfield that must be decided.
Here’s the state of play for the Formula 1 season heading into the last race. Current drivers’ standings
(Top two teams) 1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 369.5 pts 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 369.5 pts 3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 218 pts 4. Sergio Perez (Mercedes) – 190 pts
In a sense, it’s very simple; whoever finishes ahead of the other in Abu Dhabi will claim the 2021 drivers’ championship For those worried about the race being a bit of a procession, as we’ve seen in recent years: keep in mind the Abu Dhabi circuit has been altered to help to overtake. The sequence of 90-degree bends after the second back straight has been turned into a single banked turn, which the cars are expected to take at 240 km/h, while the chicane heading into the first back straight has also been removed. Along with the opening up of several corners in the street circuit-like final sector, it’s hoped the track will be both faster and more exciting.
You’d still pick Hamilton to win the title if you had to name a winner, and he’s the slight favourite with bookmakers, but that assumes a pure clean race… and as we saw in Saudi Arabia, that’s no sure thing.
WHAT ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTORS’ TITLE?
Mercedes already had a handy lead in its bid to win an eighth consecutive constructors’ crown; and then Sergio Perez crashed out in Saudi Arabia. The ex-Racing Point driver’s up-and-down season, compared to Valtteri Bottas’ steady year – including nine third-place finishes – has been the difference in the race between the Silver Arrows and Red Bull.
On 587.5 points, Mercedes is a full race win ahead of its nearest rival (559.5 points). Realistically Red Bull needs a 1-2 finish in Abu Dhabi while one of Hamilton or Bottas crashes out to win the constructors’ title. Current constructors’ standings 1. Mercedes – 587.5 pts 2. Red Bull – 559.5 pts 3. Ferrari – 307.5 pts 4. McLaren – 269 pts