Cape Town - Max Verstappen appears to be racing to protect seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher’s F1 legacy as much as he is pushing for his first world championship.
Lewis Hamilton, the only other to have won seven world championship titles, is racing to create F1 history and add to his own legacy.
Hamilton’s title defence looked shattered four races ago, but a combination of his Mercedes car and brilliant driving has ensured tomorrow’s final race in Abu Dhabi, will determine the championship. Both Verstappen, in his Red Bull car, and Hamilton are tied on points.
The official F1 online platform interviewed several of those racing tomorrow to pick a winner, and while many were undecided, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was emphatic that victory would be Verstappen’s.
For Vettel, it was a matter of believing Verstappen would win and also hoping Hamilton wouldn’t win.
“Michael (Schumacher) is my hero. For that reason, I probably don’t want Lewis to win. Both Lewis and Max have had strong seasons. Both would be deserving of the title. But I would be happy if Michael’s record still stands, because, to me, Michael is the greatest and even if Lewis won three more world championships, it doesn’t change anything for me.”
Fernando Alonso, among the most respected and experienced F1 drivers believes Verstappen has been the superior driver and that Hamilton’s Mercedes has been the superior car.
“Mercedes lately have been more performing and they’ve won a couple of races now, but Max is driving – in my opinion – one step ahead of all of us. We saw the qualifying lap in Jeddah, until he touched the wall at the last corner, that lap was coming from Max, not the Red Bull car,” said Alonso.
“For me, Mercedes deserves the constructors’ championship because the car is superior and Max the overall in the year, was driving one step ahead of everyone. It is not that I support Max; it is that he deserves it, in my opinion.”
Alfa Romeo’s Kim Raikkonen is another picking Verstappen, but only because he says it will give the sport something different to have a new world champion after Hamilton’s near decade of dominance.
Williams’s George Russell is among a minority prepared to say he wants to see a Lewis Hamilton win.
“What he has achieved, especially recently, is pretty exceptional, to even be in the fight altogether when Red Bull had such a far superior car at the start of the year; when you look back, Mercedes managed to win, I think, three of the first four races when Red Bull were clearly the quickest package out there.
“Max has done an exceptional job. You can argue that they both deserve to win for different reasons but hopefully it is a clean and fair race and the best man wins.”
This season’s title race has always been about only Hamilton and Verstappen, with the rest of the driving line-up’s cars simply not in the class of Mercedes and Red Bull.
Vettel, for example, in his Aston Martin, could be driving a Morris Minor.
The car really is the difference with so many drivers, and it is the car that could be decisive for Hamilton, with Mercedes finishing the season with the surge we saw at the start of the season.
There is no disputing the quality of both drivers and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said what has disappointed him the most has been the social media reaction in the build-up to the season finale and the inability of fans of both drivers to acknowledge the quality and incredible season both drivers have experienced.
“It is ideal for F1. It is super exciting to watch and after the last race I went back to my room and replayed the race to see what the hell happened up front and why everyone was talking about what had happened and I had the chance to watch it, and you realise how tight this battle is.
“Unfortunately, on Twitter it is so polarised and it makes it less exciting when you see the two sides fighting each other so much. I want to remain neutral, enjoy the fight and let the best man win.
“I think they have both had a brilliant season, at an incredible level. From my side, I just wish they can keep it clean for the image of the sport and that both can show good sportsmanship and put on a good show in the finale.”
This is the 30th time in 71 years of F1 that the championship will be decided in the final race and deliberate car crashes have played their part.
Ayrton Senna infamously won the 1990 championship by deliberately driving into Alain Prost at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix after Prost had done the same to him a year earlier, while (Michael) Schumacher won the 1994 title after a controversial clash with Damon Hill.
It is revealing how many of the drivers are talking about a clean final race, and the week has been dominated with talk that Verstappen will crash into Hamilton and take both out of the race because he then wins the title for having won eight races to Hamilton’s seven.
Verstappen has rubbished such a suggestion and Hamilton has been equally dismissive.
Hamilton has consistently focused on the controllable, his driving ability, and this season, perhaps more than in any of his seven title wins, we’ve seen the class and full range of Hamilton’s skill set, especially when Hamilton started the Brazilian Grand Prix last month in 10th position and won for the 101st time.
Many described the win in Brazil as his greatest performance and the most defining in his chase for an eighth title that, statistically at least, would make him the greatest F1 driver in history.
Where does Hamilton need to finish to win the title?
He has to be ahead of Verstappen if both are in the points. The only exception is if Verstappen finishes 10th to Hamilton’s ninth but takes the point for the fastest lap. The ninth & 10th positions are the only ones with a one-point gap.
If they both finish out of the points-scoring top 10, Verstappen will be the champion and if outside the top 10, no point is awarded for the fastest lap.