When a Verstappen vs Hamilton title fight was discussed at the start of the season, many people suspected it would be close. They suspected it would go down to the wire. But could it have been imagined that both men could not be separated after 21 races?
Verstappen holds the slimmest of advantages in that if both drivers end up on the same points after Abu Dhabi, he will win the championship. He has nine wins to Hamilton’s eight.
If Hamilton increases his tally to nine in the final race, he will win the title outright anyway.
Let’s take a look at six races that have defined the title battle between the two drivers:
Bahrain Grand Prix: Hamilton lays down early marker
When Max Verstappen charged towards pole position in Bahrain, you already sensed we had a title fight on our hands.
The Dutchman had recorded just one pole position the season prior, at the final race in Abu Dhabi.
He got away nicely in the race, holding off Hamilton at the start. But Mercedes pitted the Brit early, and Red Bull didn’t immediately respond. When they finally pitted Verstappen seven laps later, he was seven seconds behind the Brit.
Then the drama began. On lap 51 of 53, Verstappen closed to within a second. He attempted to overtake Hamilton around the outside of turn four, but ended up with a snap of oversteer and had to go off the circuit.
The Dutchman had to give the place back. He didn’t get another opportunity to overtake. Hamilton took the chequered flag and laid down the first marker in the title race.
British Grand Prix: Hamilton and Verstappen in first lap collision
Verstappen and Hamilton went into the British Grand Prix on the front row. What happened next dominated discussions for weeks.
The Dutchman retained the lead off the line and held on as the pair entered Copse. Using the slipstream, Hamilton moved towards the inside before making a move into the corner. But both drivers collided, sending Verstappen spearing into the tyre barriers at 150mph.
The stewards gave Hamilton a 10-second penalty for the incident. After serving the penalty and emerging from the pits, the Mercedes driver was behind Lando Norris, team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
The Brit quickly passed Norris. Sainz then went into the pits. Hamilton overtook Bottas on the Hangar Straight, meaning only Leclerc stood between him and a famous British Grand Prix victory.
He pulled off the decisive overtake down the inside of Copse – the same corner that he and Verstappen had collided at on lap one – with just three laps remaining. The full 26 points went to Hamilton.
Italian Grand Prix: Hamilton and Verstappen collide again
When Hamilton emerged after a slow pit stop on lap 26 of the Italian Grand Prix, he was perilously close to Verstappen. The pair were side by side on the pit straight.
Hamilton had the inside line going into turn one. Verstappen tried to hold it around the outside, but it quickly became apparent that both cars would not make it through the corner. After going over the turn two kerbs, Verstappen clipped Hamilton. His car vaulted into the air and landed on top of his Mercedes rival. Both drivers were forced to retire from the race.
The Dutchman was deemed “predominantly to blame” for the incident by the stewards. He was handed a three-place grid penalty for the following race.
Mexican Grand Prix: Verstappen makes crucial first corner overtake
When Valtteri Bottas qualified on pole in Mexico, ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen, we knew there could be fireworks at turn one.
All three drivers got relatively good starts, but Verstappen used the slipstream – and the car’s width to the left of Bottas – to pull alongside. He then braked the latest and swept across the outside, into the lead.
The move was vital. Verstappen dominated the remainder of the race, and took home 25 points for the race victory ahead of Hamilton.
Brazilian Grand Prix: Hamilton masterclass on way to huge victory
There likely won’t have been a Formula 1 race weekend where Hamilton has had to face as many obstacles as he did in Brazil.
Firstly, he started the weekend off by qualifying on pole for the sprint race that was to come. However, he was disqualified due to a technical infringement and had to start last.
After a series of majestic overtakes, Hamilton eventually crossed the line in fifth position in the sprint race. But he had to take an engine penalty and dropped to 10th place on the grid for the race proper.
He quickly made his way up to second, with Verstappen the only car ahead. Hamilton spent most of the race following his title rival until he sensed an opening on lap 51. The Brit went around the outside into turn four, but Verstappen’s car positioning meant Hamilton had to drive off the track.
On lap 59, he got the move done. Hamilton completed the overtake before turn four and went on to win the race.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: More controversy as Hamilton picks up third straight win
F1’s first visit to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit featured a considerable amount of drama, two red flags, several virtual safety cars and another Verstappen/Hamilton battle.
The story began in qualifying when Verstappen, seemingly set for pole position, crashed into the wall on the final corner’s exit. He would line up third; Hamilton was on pole.
The start got off without issues, with Hamilton leading from Bottas and Verstappen. Then a crash involving Mick Schumacher brought out the safety car. Both Mercedes drivers pitted, while Verstappen stayed out. Race control brought out the red flag, meaning Verstappen could change his tyres and remain in the race’s lead.
On the restart, Hamilton got the better getaway. He led into the first corner, but Verstappen tried to hold position around the outside. The Red Bull driver went off the track and rejoined ahead of his title rival. He had to give the place back, but retook it with a superb overtake on the inside of turn one on the following restart.
Both drivers then held position for another 20 laps. Hamilton went up the inside at turn one on lap 37, but Verstappen understeered off the circuit, sending both drivers off. The Dutchman was forced to give the place back again.
He slowed considerably on the penultimate straight of the lap, but Hamilton wasn’t aware that Verstappen would be letting him through, and drove into the back of his rival. The Dutchman was later handed a 10-second penalty for causing a collision.
On lap 42, the Red Bull driver let Hamilton by – but then almost instantly re-overtook him. The Brit did get past on the following lap and took the car to the chequered flag to leave the scores level heading into Abu Dhabi.
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