At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this Sunday, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will look to emerge victorious from one of the most dramatic championship contests Formula One has ever seen. It’s been incredible, it’s been unpredictable and it’s been controversial. It might sound clichéd, but if you were to make a checklist of all the things you need to make a truly great championship fight, this really has had them all.
The stakes are clear. They are level on points, so winner takes all. In the case of a tie, Verstappen wins the title as he has one more victory over the season. Here’s all the ingredients of this year’s fight and why they have all combined together to make this year’s battle so incredibly special.
Two generational talents
One of the great parts of this year’s championship has been how massively different the two protagonists are in terms of where they are in their lives and careers. On one side is British driver Hamilton, 36 years old, a seven-time world champion, a global superstar and an increasingly vocal advocate of social change. Hamilton has won more races than any other driver and currently sits joint top of the all-time list with
Michael Schumacher in career championships. An eighth championship would surely make Hamilton F1’s undisputed GOAT. On the other is Dutch driver Verstappen, 24 years old, who keeps a much lower profile away from racing. His father, Jos, was a racer and former teammate of Schumacher in the 1990s. Verstappen is going for his first world championship and seems the most likely driver to challenge the records Hamilton has been breaking over the last few seasons.
This finale is the stuff of Hollywood filmmakers’ dreams. It will either be a passing of the torch moment or an achievement F1 has never seen before. It’s the classic tale of two generations clashing. Whatever the sport, it’s difficult not to find that kind of storyline compelling. There are a few similarities between the two, however. Both drivers were seen as prodigious talents from an early age. Like Hamilton in 2007, Verstappen entered Formula One in 2015 earmarked as a future world champion.
Red Bull and Mercedes both wanted him on their programme — ultimately it was Red Bull’s ability to give him an immediate race seat with junior team Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri), which Mercedes could not match, that swayed the Dutchman. He made his debut aged 17. Hamilton won a championship in his second season in 2008 with McLaren after a near-miss as a rookie, but was far from polished as a driver in the early years of his career.
Before he joined Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton’s form was frustratingly erratic — he would claim a stunning race victory one week and collide with another driver the next. Verstappen’s early career was similar in that sense. Almost unbelievably talented, he became F1’s youngest race winner at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, his first race with Red Bull, but his aggressive driving style was criticised in the early years by three former world champions in Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Two evenly matched teams
The stars aligned in an almost perfect way for Red Bull this year. Hamilton and Mercedes have dominated F1 since 2014 and this has been the hardest the German manufacturer has had to work for a championship in that time.
Red Bull and Honda’s partnership effectively struck gold in 2021. Honda had a horrible time of things with McLaren from 2015 until 2017, but the progress made with Red Bull was clear in the years after they joined forces in 2019. With Red Bull’s car-building prowess as strong as it’s ever been, an engine that could fight Mercedes put them right at the front of the field.