Verstappen and Hamilton insist they both enjoy their rivalry ahead of deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

By Sports Desk December 11, 2021

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton indicated they have both enjoyed their heated rivalry for this season's Formula One world championship on the eve of their crucial encounter in Abu Dhabi.

Both go into Sunday's final race of the season level on 369.5 points, just the second time the top two in F1 have headed into the finale all square.

Red Bull's Verstappen beat Mercedes and Hamilton to pole position on Saturday by 0.371 seconds with a flying lap that gives him a clear view of his first world championship.

Should he win his eighth title on Sunday, Hamilton will surpass Michael Schumacher in becoming the driver to have won the most world championships in F1 history.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Sunday's race, Verstappen and Hamilton were both asked to list some positives about the other, despite the rivalry appearing to turn nasty in recent times.

"I think Lewis has already won so many championships, but also this year I think we have been pushing each other, certainly in some races, to the limit," Verstappen said. 

"We have been really basically trying to get everything out of our cars, tyres, to the last lap, to the last corner and that's very exciting, especially when it's been between two teams as well because when it's team-mates, it's always a bit different.

"But when two teams are fighting, you have different strategies you don't know about, preparation, so it has been really enjoyable for most of the time.

"That's normal in a championship and yeah, of course, in 10, 20 years' time, people will look back at it, even myself, and you will remember this year for sure."

Hamilton agreed, adding: "Well said. I agree fully. It’s been an incredible year, an amazing battle and I'm grateful that I've had such a close battle with Max and his team.

"I think they've done an exceptional job and shown true strength and so it's pushed us to the limit in ways that we needed and we, I think, have grown stronger as a team in ways we didn't know that we could grow and yeah, it's been amazing. I hope that we have many more seasons like this."

The Dutchman does enjoy a slender advantage in the title race due to his superior win tally, and is also boosted by the fact that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix's winner has started from pole in each of the last six races, though he was keen to play down the significance of statistics.

"First of all," Verstappen said. "I never look at these stats because these things can already change at the start or whatever, first lap, so I just need to focus on what we can control as a team and yeah, the coming hours.

"I think what's most important is to have a good sleep, but also I have friends and family around, so I'm not going to do anything different to what I normally have been doing."

Verstappen will start on a soft tyre that should initially work in his favour, potentially leaving Hamilton – on mediums – battling the chasing pack. Hamilton is not too worried, though, saying: "I feel good. I'm happy that I'm on the front row. I can see my opponent.

"Obviously it's going to be a little bit harder at the start off the medium tyre as opposed to the soft tyre but nonetheless, I'm giving it everything."

Related items

  • Espargaro and Vinales sign new two-year Aprilia deals Espargaro and Vinales sign new two-year Aprilia deals

    Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales have signed new two-year deals with Aprilia.

    The Spanish duo will continue to ride for the MotoGP team until at least the end of the 2024 season.

    Espargaro will go into the Italian Grand Prix this weekend third in the battle for the title, having secured one win and three podium finishes this season.

    Vinales continues to adapt to the RS-GP, but is 10th in the standings.

    "This confirmation [of the new contracts] was just what the doctor ordered," Espargaro said. "We've worked hard together and grown together.

    "We were a hope, now we are reality. In 2021, we had already seen clear signs of our steps forward and now we are able to battle consistently with the best in the world.

    "Continuing to do so with Aprilia is a source of pride for me. We can grow even more and we want to demonstrate that on the track."

    Vinales stated: "I'm extremely happy to continue my work with Aprilia Racing. Now our horizons are expanding and we'll be able to work with continuity to achieve ambitious goals.

    "I believe in this project and I'm happy to be part of it. I've found a fantastic environment in Aprilia and this confirmation gives me the peace of mind to grow the way this team and I deserve to."

  • Can Leclerc lift his Monaco curse with Red Bull in control? Can Leclerc lift his Monaco curse with Red Bull in control?

    Formula One has arrived at the most prestigious race on the calendar, and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc would be desperate to end an awful run of form at his home race.

    Born and raised in Monaco, Leclerc's string of bad luck on the historic circuit dates back to his days in Formula Two, where he set the F2 lap record in 2017 before suspension problems caused a DNF.

    The next year, in F1, he was in the points for Sauber before brake failure led to a crash with Brendan Hartley.

    After poor strategy and Q1 elimination in his first Monaco Grand Prix for Ferrari in 2019, Leclerc charged up the field early on but pushed a little too hard and collided with Romain Grosjean at Rascasse.

    In 2021, he surprisingly stuck an inferior Ferrari on pole position but crashed at the end of Q3, and extensive drive-shaft damage led to him cruelly retiring on the formation lap.

    The 24-year-old became the first Monegasque to claim pole, but his three DNFs – from as many F1 entries – are his most at any circuit.

    Despite ending up in the barriers on a demonstration lap in Niki Lauda's Ferrari last week, another pole could finally put Leclerc on the top step in his home race.

    Twelve of the past 17 winners at Monaco have started from pole, as little room to overtake with bigger cars on Monte Carlo's notoriously tight streets makes track position critical.

    It would be a welcome way for Leclerc to buck his trend of failing to convert poles into race victories, winning only four times from 13 starts at the front of the grid.

    The title race adds another dimension, with Max Verstappen taking a six-point lead from him in the drivers' standings after successive victories at Imola, Miami and Barcelona.

    In-form Red Bull with records in sight

    Monaco has been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull, and this weekend could bring a number of records for the team.

    This weekend could see Red Bull claim their highest number of race wins (six), pole positions (six), podiums (24, with both drivers) and points earned at a circuit, surpassing the 356 collected in Spain.

    Meanwhile, reigning world champion Verstappen has the chance to record the longest winning streak of his career, beating last year's three wins between France and Austria.

    Ricciardo in need of renaissance

    Daniel Ricciardo has come under criticism from McLaren team principal Zak Brown for his recent performances, with a clear need for improvement.

    The 32-year-old suffered one of the lowest points of his career last year in Monte Carlo, when he was lapped by teammate Lando Norris.

    Ricciardo is suffering his worst streak of finishes outside the points (three) since 2012, when he had five consecutive empty-handed returns for Toro Rosso.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 110
    2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 104
    3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 85
    4. George Russell (Mercedes) 74
    5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 65

    Constructors

    1. Red Bull 195
    2. Ferrari 169
    3. Mercedes 120
    4. McLaren 50
    5. Alfa Romeo 39

  • Lewis Hamilton labels Barcelona recovery 'better than a win' after clinching fifth Lewis Hamilton labels Barcelona recovery 'better than a win' after clinching fifth

    Lewis Hamilton says his fifth-placed finish at the Spanish Grand Prix felt "better than a win" after he recovered from a first-lap puncture that left him in 19th position.

    Starting from P6, Hamilton suffered the puncture following contact from Haas driver Kevin Magnussen on the first lap in Barcelona and suggested to his Mercedes team he should retire from the race to preserve the car's engine after rejoining at the back of the field.

    But the seven-time champion produced an excellent drive after his enforced pit-stop and looked on course to finish fourth before a coolant leak allowed Ferrari's Carlos Sainz to edge him out late on.

    Speaking after the race, Hamilton considered the circumstances he was forced to overcome en route to a strong points finish.

    "To have that problem and come back, it felt like some of the older races I've done," Hamilton said. "It feels amazing.

    "I was thinking it was impossible to get back into points, but the team said 'no, you're on for eighth'. I thought they were being super-optimistic.

    "I'm glad we didn't [retire] and it just shows you never stop and never give up, and that's what I did.

    "A race like that is like a win, and it actually feels better than a win when you have come from so far back."

    Since losing out on a record eighth world title in the closing seconds of the final race of the 2021 campaign, when Max Verstappen clinched his first championship in controversial circumstances, Hamilton has endured a frustrating time.

    The 37-year-old, who has only secured one podium this campaign, has been critical of Mercedes' W13 car on numerous occasions this year, calling it "undriveable" after finishing 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last month. 

    But Hamilton believes the team's work on the car has improved it greatly, and he suggested he could have joined team-mate George Russell – in third – in challenging the two Red Bull drivers, who secured their second one-two in three races, if not for his early problems.

    "We have made a lot of improvements with the car and the race pace is much better, the car is much nicer in the race," he added. "We have some improvements to make in qualifying.

    "If I hadn't had that [issue], I would have been fighting with the Red Bulls."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.