Kimi Raikkonen says his wife will be more emotional than him when the Finn races for the final time in Formula One this weekend.

The 2007 world champion will bring the curtain down on his F1 career at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, having won 21 races, been on the podium 103 times and secured pole on 18 occasions.

Raikkonen's wife, Minttu, will be at the Yas Marina Circuit for his swansong along with his children, Robin and Rianna.

The 42-year-old is not sure what his emotions will be for his last race, but he expects his wife to shed a tear or two.

He said: "I think it's true my wife will be more emotional about it.

"Honestly I doubt that the kids will care either way, there are things their father does that are far more interesting! They like coming to a warm country and other things, but it's nice to have them here."

Asked if he will be emotional, Raikkonen replied: "I don't know, I doubt it, but you never know."

The Alfa Romeo driver says he has still not made any plans for retirement.

He added: "Right now I'm not looking at anything apart from finishing the year. We'll see if there's some interesting things that comes out, if it makes sense maybe I'll do it, but I have zero plans right now.

"I don't want to make any plans, I'm looking forward to having a less hectic schedule from my side, so we'll see if we'll do something or not in the future."

Raikkonen is 16th in the 2021 drivers' championship with 10 points.

A new deal has been agreed for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to remain on the Formula One calendar until 2030.

F1 races have taken place at the Yas Marina Circuit since 2009 and the track will this weekend stage a decisive finale to the 2021 season, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen level on points in a captivating battle for the title.

It was announced on Thursday that F1 has renewed its contract with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM).

F1 CEO and president Stefano Domenicali said: "We are delighted to confirm that we will be racing in Abu Dhabi until 2030 under this new agreement. We are hugely looking forward to the season finale this weekend when more Formula One history will be made.

"The promoter, ADMM, always creates an incredible show for the final race of every F1 season and, combined with the changes made to improve the racing on the Yas Marina Circuit, we are excited for many years of racing in Abu Dhabi that is ahead of us."

Saif Al Noaimi, CEO of ADMM, said: "The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Yas Marina Circuit continue to introduce hundreds of millions of spectators and TV viewers to Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates.

"The signing of a new multi-year deal with the Formula One Group not only represents the strength of our relationship but reaffirms our commitment to delivering an unparalleled and world-class race weekend experience for all visitors to enjoy."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes this year's dramatic Formula One title race is "amazing for the sport".

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen head into the final grand prix of the season level on points at the top of the drivers' championship.

Mercedes, meanwhile, are bidding to win their eighth constructors' title. The gap between themselves and Red Bull is 28 points, though Wolff's team could still lose the crown to their rivals.

With such drama promised in Abu Dhabi this weekend, Wolff thinks it can only serve as a boost to F1, which had become predictable due to Mercedes' dominance. 

Indeed, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth world title and a fifth consecutive championship triumph.

Since 2014, Hamilton has only failed to win the championship on one occasion, finishing second to team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2016, while Verstappen and Red Bull are bidding for a maiden title.

"The final race will be intense, but it's important to not get distracted, to just keep our heads down, our feet on the ground and bring the performance that we had last time out," Wolff said in a release on Mercedes' official team website.

"We're grateful to still be in this fight. The fact that both championships will be decided at the season finale proves just how hard both sides have been challenging each other and pushing each other forward.

"It's all or nothing for the season finale and that's amazing for the sport, amazing for the fans and amazing for all of us, too.

"We're also relishing the challenges of racing in Abu Dhabi this weekend, at a circuit that has gone through quite a few changes since we last raced there.

"There are new sections of track to understand and that really is a step into the unknown for everyone. So, it's going to be another exciting weekend!"

Verstappen won the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and in the unlikely event both he and Hamilton finish outside of the points, it will be the Dutchman who wins the title courtesy of his nine race victories for the season.

Mercedes had won the previous six races in Abu Dhabi prior to Verstappen's victory last year. The Red Bull star is aiming to become the first F1 champion from the Netherlands, and he would be the fourth-youngest champion at the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days.

Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni, in 1974, are the only other F1 title rivals to have gone into the last race of a season level on points. Never in the history of the championship has a season ended with two drivers tied at the top of the standings.

As far as title races go, there have not been many better than this season's tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

A remarkable 2021 campaign ends in Abu Dhabi this weekend, with the Formula One championship up for grabs.

With 369.5 points each, Hamilton and Verstappen do battle for the world title; the Briton is aiming for a record eighth crown, his Dutch counterpart hoping to scoop his first.

Three straight race victories in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have seen Mercedes' Hamilton catch up with Verstappen, who has nine wins to his rival's eight.

The rivalry has boiled over. Tempers have been frayed. Verstappen was slapped with two penalties for his actions in Jeddah on Sunday as the Red Bull driver finished in second.

Everything is up for grabs on Sunday. The drivers' championship and the constructors' championship. Indeed, it is the first time two teams have gone into the final race vying for glory since 2008.

There is no more room for error. The winner will take it all in the United Arab Emirates.

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton won an extraordinary Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a race that set new standards for drama.

Having clinched his 103rd pole in F1 in Saturday's qualifying session after a costly Verstappen crash, Hamilton held his nerve amid plenty of controversies.

Verstappen got ahead after the season's penultimate race was red-flagged twice in the first 16 laps, but a series of virtual safety cars kept Hamilton in touch.

With Verstappen going beyond track limits to keep the lead, he was instructed to give the place back, only for Hamilton to crash into the back of him. Verstappen then did give the lead back to Hamilton at turn 27, but did so in a DRS zone, allowing him to swiftly regain the edge, that move also deemed unsatisfactory by race officials.

A five-second penalty all but ended hopes of a win for Verstappen, with Hamilton also clinching the fastest-lap bonus point to make things all square heading to Abu Dhabi. Verstappen leads the way in the championship thanks to his nine wins, however.

It was a bad day for Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who crashed into a wall, with Valtteri Bottas' third-place finish leaving Mercedes with the advantage in the constructors' championship.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN ABU DHABI

Drama. Tension. Blood, sweat and tears? This title race has had more twists and turns than Monte Carlo, but all will be settled.

Should both title rivals finish out of the points – it would seem unlikely, though you never know – Verstappen would take the crown based on his nine wins.

Hamilton has thrown plenty of accusations of aggressive and dangerous driving the Dutchman's way, and it would be hard to argue against that given recent events.

Verstappen led this race from beginning to end last season, however. Can he harness that form and composure under the finest of margins?

Mercedes' dominance of the constructors' championship has seen them win seven in a row. They hold a 28-point lead as it stands, meaning even a Verstappen-Perez one-two, plus the fastest lap bonus, would not be enough to necessarily deny Toto Wolff and his team an eighth triumph.

Indeed, Red Bull would need the fastest lap time, a minimum ninth place for one driver and a race win combined to win the title even if both Mercedes cars fail to finish.

This is also the final race of Kimi Raikkonen's F1 career, with the 2007 world champion set for retirement. Bottas will be his replacement at Alfa Romeo, bringing an end to his stay at Mercedes.

TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

- Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni, in 1974, are the only other F1 title rivals to have gone into the last race of a season level on points. Never in the history of the championship has a season ended with two drivers tied at the top of the standings.
- Hamilton is the driver to have won the most races in Asia (3) and in the Middle East (15). This tally includes five victories and five pole positions in Abu Dhabi.
- Mercedes had won the previous six races in Abu Dhabi prior to Verstappen's victory in 2020. The Red Bull star is aiming to become the first F1 champion from The Netherlands, and he would be the fourth-youngest champion at the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days.
- Bottas is one podium finish away from equalling Rubens Barrichello as a non-championship winning driver to have achieved the highest amount of top-three finishes (68) in F1.
- Should Hamilton win, it will be a fourth race victory in a row, and would mean the Briton has achieved such a streak in six of the eight Hybrid Era seasons.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 369.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 369.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 218
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 158

Constructors

1. Mercedes 587.5
2. Red Bull 559.5
3. Ferrari 307.5
4. McLaren 269
5. Alpine 149

Max Verstappen's father does not believe his son will resort to ramming title rival Lewis Hamilton off the road in the final race of the Formula One season in order to win the championship.

Hamilton won an extraordinary Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday to move level on points with Max Verstappen in the F1 drivers' championship.

Heading into the final grand prix in Abu Dhabi next Sunday, Verstappen has the edge on races won (9-8) and so will clinch his first ever title if Hamilton does not better his result.

If neither driver finished in the points – or finished the race – that would also seal Verstappen's triumph.

Asked by the Daily Mail whether his son is likely to sacrifice his own race to take out Hamilton, Verstappen's father and former F1 driver Jos said: "I don't think that will happen.

"Max absolutely wants to win. He will definitely go for it. He will clearly try to beat him. He will do everything to get the win, that's for sure. It will be exciting."

Ahead of the Saudi Arabian GP, Jos had discussed Max's relationship with Hamilton – as well as his own.

"I never speak to Lewis," the 49-year-old told the Daily Mail. "He doesn't need to speak to me. I'm nothing to him. I respect him as a driver, but the rest... nothing.

"Max and Lewis only speak on the podium, very little. When I see Max with other drivers, I think they get on very well. But with Lewis, nothing. Lewis is in his own world."

Verstappen received a pair of penalties in Jeddah, the second for causing a collision with Hamilton when he braked suddenly.

Hamilton was critical of Verstappen when asked if he thought his rival drove dangerously, saying: "I definitely feel that there were scenarios where that was the case.

"This is not the first time that I've had to avoid a collision, that's how I felt at the moment, but you know sometimes you say things in the heat of the moment and you go back and re-watch things and then you maybe feel differently. But in the moment, that's how it felt.

"I really just tried to recompose myself and chase down and keep fighting."

Lewis Hamilton won an extraordinary Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to move level on points with Max Verstappen in the Formula One drivers' championship as the race set new standards for drama.

Saturday's qualifying session saw Hamilton take pole as Verstappen crashed while on a lap that would have put him at the front of the grid, but that proved just a mere taster for an utterly remarkable main event dominated by a plethora of controversial incidents.

Verstappen got ahead after the season's penultimate race was red-flagged twice in the first 16 laps, but a series of virtual safety cars kept Hamilton in touch with his Red Bull rival, who went beyond track limits to keep the lead at the first corner on lap 37 in an incident eerily similar to their famous tangle in Brazil.

Verstappen was subsequently instructed to give the place back, only for Hamilton to crash into the back of him as he seemingly attempted to do so. Then Verstappen successfully gave it back at turn 27, but did so in a DRS zone, enabling him to immediately retake the lead.

At that point, Verstappen was again told to give the position back, with that incident to be investigated after the race, and he was served with a five-second time penalty for the previous tangle at turn one, effectively ending his hopes of victory.

Rear tyre degradation saw second-placed Verstappen back off and Hamilton claimed the fastest-lap bonus point to level matters on 369.5 points, though it is the Dutchman who still holds first place having won nine races to the Mercedes driver's eight.

The safety car was brought out after Mick Schumacher went into the wall between turns 21 and 22, prompting Hamilton to dive into the pits on lap 10 to switch to hard tyres while Verstappen stayed out and took track position.

With race officials wanting to repair damage to the tyre wall, the red flag was then waved, stopping the race, giving Verstappen the chance to switch his tyres without using a pit stop – infuriating Hamilton.

The subsequent standing restart brought more drama. Hamilton got a much better getaway, with Verstappen going off track but staying ahead of Hamilton, who lost a further place to Esteban Ocon.

Behind that tussle, Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was sent careering into the wall, while Nikita Mazepin and George Russell also crashed, resulting in another red flag.

A tense negotiation between Red Bull and race director Michael Masi saw Verstappen cede a position to Hamilton with Ocon on pole for the second restart.

Hamilton and Ocon touched going into the first corner and enough room was left for Verstappen to dive down the inside for the lead. However, the following laps saw debris from incidents further down the field led to a collection of virtual safety cars, leaving Hamilton in striking distance on lap 37, where the tension was ratcheted up further as Verstappen kept his place in contentious circumstances.

His attempt to give up his position took Hamilton by surprise and led to a collision that damaged the front wing of the Mercedes, the Briton accusing Verstappen of 'brake testing' him in the aftermath.

Whether an intentional action from Verstappen or a product of miscommunication, it meant the outcome of the race was essentially settled over team radio, the Red Bull driver left in no mood to spray champagne on the podium with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who took third.

Verstappen quickly walked off to leave the Mercedes drivers to celebrate together, the fallout from the most dramatic race of an incredible season sure to last until the title is decided in Abu Dhabi next week.


AN UNFORGETTABLE WIN

Hamilton's win was his 103rd in Formula One, though he surely would have liked it to have come in less contentious circumstances.

But the manner of this success means it is certainly one he will never forget and Hamilton won't mind the nature of the victory if he is soon celebrating a record eighth F1 world title in the United Arab Emirates.

'MORE ABOUT PENALTIES THAN RACING'

In a radio interview for the 'Driver of the Day' honour, which Verstappen was given by the fans, he used the platform to voice his displeasure at the race effectively being settled by the officials.

"Luckily the fans have a clear mind about racing," Verstappen said. "I'm just trying to race. This sport is more about penalties than racing. I'm pleased the fans enjoyed it and I gave it my all today."

With their collision under a stewards' investigation, there could yet be more penalties to come.

The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was red-flagged twice in the space of 16 laps as the Formula One drivers' championship battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was hit by yet more drama.

Hamilton started on pole at Jeddah, with a crash in qualifying by Verstappen giving the Mercedes driver the chance to potentially take the lead in the standings with one race to go.

However, the safety car was brought out after Mick Schumacher spun into the wall between turns 21 and 22, with Hamilton choosing to dive into the pits on lap 10 to switch to hard tyres as Verstappen stayed out and took track position.

With race officials wanting to repair damage to the tyre wall, the red flag was then waved, forcing all drivers to return to the paddock and giving Verstappen the chance to switch his tyres to the harder compound without using a pit stop.

Hamilton expressed his annoyance on team radio, saying: "Why is there a red flag? The tyre wall looks fine. I know the reason for the red flag."

He continued: "Have they said what the reason was? The tyre wall that looks fine. [Chief strategist] James [Vowles], that was a huge gamble we took."

Vowles replied: "It was a risk we knew, but we didn't think it [the red flag] would happen."

However, there was then another twist from the subsequent standing start, from which Hamilton got a much better getaway.

He looked to have the lead going into the first corner, but Verstappen went off track and swooped ahead of him, with Esteban Ocon also getting ahead of the Briton.

Behind that exchange, Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was sent careering into the wall, while Nikita Mazepin and George Russell also crashed, resulting in another red flag.

Verstappen was not allowed to keep the lead, with a tense radio negotiation between Red Bull and race director Michael Masi resulting in another standing restart with Ocon on pole, Hamilton second and Verstappen third.

Lewis Hamilton is braced for an "intense" Saudi Arabia Grand Prix after claiming pole position for Sunday's showdown as the reigning world champion fights to keep his title defence alive.

Hamilton will start from the front of the grid in Jeddah, where Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen crashed into the wall on his final flying lap.

Verstappen went fastest in the first two sectors but hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, meaning he will start the main race from third behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton has won the past two races to close the gap to Verstappen in the drivers' standings to eight points and evaded a serious punishment for impeding Nikita Mazepin and failing to comply with yellow flags during FP3 earlier on Saturday.

If the Saudi Arabia GP finished in the order started among the top three – Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen – it would see seven-time world champion Hamilton regain the lead heading into next week's Abu Dhabi decider.

"This place is one of the hardest tracks to get right, I was on the limit the whole way round and the car was on a knife-edge," said Hamilton. "Trying to pull out the maximum with the tyres was so tough.

"It's difficult to understand why - it's so warm here but we were having trouble getting temperature in the front and rears at the same time to have grip at the start of the lap.

"I'm very proud and thankful that we were able to put it on the front row for tomorrow, it's going to be an intense race. It's always important to have Valtteri beside me, particularly in this part of the year, he's been driving exceptionally well and hopefully tomorrow we can do a good job together."

Mercedes team principle Toto Wolff added: "What a crazy session! We expected to be stronger today, we have a quick car and it looked like those quick corners would suit us, but like so many times this season, you're constantly surprised.

"Austin should have been our track and wasn't, and then suddenly in Brazil we were performing really well, so you just never know. It was important today that we kept attacking and attacking, and we've ended up with a front row lockout which is a big advantage for tomorrow.

"There is a brutal energy running through the whole Team. We just look forward and keep pushing, and pushing, and when you go in the debrief room or in the garage, you don't need to talk because you can feel the energy and how buzzed everyone is."

Despite the painful ending to qualifying, Red Bull's Dutchman Verstappen remains upbeat.

"I was on a really good lap until I lost it on the final corner, I thought I had approached it in the same way I had been doing all session, but I lost the rear," he said.

"I'm upset with myself and it is of course disappointing but there are two races to go and anything can happen. We had a good car in qualifying and everything was coming together which gives me hope going into the race tomorrow, also knowing that the pace was there today.

"I hope we can follow well tomorrow and if that’s the case, there should be some good opportunities and we should have a good shot."

Max Verstappen felt "terrible" after hitting the wall on his final flying lap in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, handing title rival Lewis Hamilton pole position. 

Championship leader Verstappen went fastest in the first two sectors but hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, meaning he will start Sunday's race from third behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas. 

The Dutchman will hope the crash did not result in any damage to his gearbox, having taken a new one ahead of the grand prix in Jeddah. A replacement would result in a five-place grid penalty that could have huge ramifications on his title challenge. 

Asked about his crash, Verstappen said: "It's of course terrible. It was a good qualifying. I knew the pace was there and it showed in the last lap. 

"I don't really understand what happened but I locked up and I still tried to keep the car and finish the lap but clipped the rear and had to stop. 

"P3 today is a bit disappointing knowing what lap I was on, but it shows the car is quick and let's see what we can do in the race. 

"I don't know [if the gearbox was damaged]. I immediately stopped so let's see." 

Hamilton has won the past two races to close the gap to Verstappen in the drivers' standings to eight points and evaded a serious punishment for impeding Nikita Mazepin and failing to comply with yellow flags during FP3 earlier on Saturday. 

The seven-time defending champion paid tribute to the efforts of Bottas in the build-up to qualifying and expects Verstappen's Red Bull to be a significant factor on Sunday. 

"We were quick through practice but particularly FP3 and qualifying were just lacking pace, struggling with the tyres, so for us to get a one-two I'm really proud of Valtteri and the men and women in our team who have been working so hard. It's a great result," said Hamilton. 

"This was the goal. We worked so hard through simulation, set-up. Collaboration has been epic with Valtteri, he's the best team-mate there has even been in this sport, for sure. We've worked together to get the car where it needs to be. 

"Those guys [Red Bull] were just so fast. That Bull round this track is just something else, but given where we are and what we've managed to pull out I'm happy. 

"We always get closer in race pace. I anticipate there'll be a close battle on Sunday, but Valtteri and I will be on it." 

Bottas will have getting the win in the back of his mind but his priority will be helping Mercedes clinch the constructors' championship and Hamilton maximise his title chances. 

"Of course I want to get a race win, but first things first we need to concentrate on the team championship and Lewis is still fighting for the title, I'm not," said Bottas.

"I'll do my best with whatever I can and at the same time try to enjoy it." 

Max Verstappen shrugged off pressure as the championship leader insisted it does not matter where he finishes, despite being a win away from claiming the Formula One title.

Verstappen can clinch the F1 title at Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – the Dutchman holds an eight-point lead over defending world champion and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton with two races to go.

While Verstappen stands on the cusp of glory, Red Bull star Verstappen said his approach would not change.

Hamilton has stated he is "more relaxed than ever", putting pressure on Verstappen, especially after winning the past two races to narrow the margin.

"Like I've done the whole season, there's no change in that," Verstappen, 24, told reporters about his approach in Jeddah for the first Grand Prix at the circuit.

"It's a new track, first of all we need to learn the track and see how that goes in FP1. For the rest, I just focus on the weekend and try to be as competitive as I can be."

Verstappen continued: "It’s just been of course a great year for us. We had a lot of good moments and it's more enjoyable. Last year was pretty boring for me, because basically all the time I was just in third… to be in this title fight to the end I think is very impressive from our side.

"And of course, I'll try to keep enjoying the last two races. It doesn't matter where we end up; we've had a really, really good season as a team."

Verstappen is 12 years younger than Hamilton, who is a seven-time world champion, and admitted that experience plays a part.

However, Verstappen said he has learned a lot since entering F1 in 2015, finishing third overall in both 2019 and 2020.

"I think it's natural of course that when you are in this stage of your career you are better prepared than what you were in your first or second, when Lewis was fighting for his first title," Verstappen said.

"I think it's a natural progression and it's very normal. I also feel much better prepared and more experienced than when I first came into Formula 1.

"No, I don't think that makes a big difference, because otherwise it would have shown already throughout the season."

Lewis Hamilton is not comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia due to the country's human rights record and says it is "not his choice" to be there. 

Saudi Arabia is hosting its first Formula One race this weekend in Jeddah as part of a reported 10-year deal. 

In the build-up to the race, a number of human rights groups have accused F1 of being complicit in 'sportswashing' for the regime. 

However, reigning world champion Hamilton is hoping the race weekend will at least help raise further awareness around the issue. 

"I feel that the sport and us are duty bound to help raise awareness for certain issues that we've seen, particularly human rights in these countries that we're going to," he said.  

"I can't pretend to be the most knowledgeable or have the deepest understanding of someone who has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules. 

"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say I do. 

"But it's not my choice to be here – the sport has taken the choice to be here. Whether it's right or wrong, while we're here, I feel it's important that we do try to raise awareness." 

Mercedes driver Hamilton heads into the penultimate race of the season eight points behind championship leader Max Verstappen. 

Verstappen could win his maiden title on Sunday if results go his way, but Hamilton has won the last two races in Brazil and Qatar and feels in good shape. 

"I'm more relaxed than I've ever been," he said. "I've been around a long time. I remember how it was with my first championship, even my second and third... the sleepless nights. 

"Now I am a lot more sure about myself and have applied myself better than ever before. 

"I can't change the past – all I can do is prepare 100 per cent for what's ahead of me and I am sure I have." 

One of the most memorable Formula One title races in history could be settled this weekend as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton continue their thrilling 2021 battle at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

A high-speed street race in Jeddah will become the 76th circuit to host an event in F1 history and could be the scene of Verstappen being crowned world champion for the first time.

Verstappen takes an eight-point lead to Saudi Arabia and after the event there will only be 26 left up for grabs in the Abu Dhabi season finale.

But it is his in-form title rival Hamilton who will be feeling the best heading to a new venue as he seeks a third consecutive race victory for the first time in 2021.

Hamilton has launched a stunning late-season charge in his bid to win an eighth world title that would take him above Michael Schumacher for the all-time record but still finds himself with little margin for error.

Should Verstappen win the title, it would be the first time a championship has been decided at a debuting circuit since 1981 when Nelson Piquet was crowned in Las Vegas.

There is also a scenario where the two drivers could, fittingly, go into the last race of the season tied.

If Hamilton wins while setting the fastest lap and Verstappen comes second, the top two would be level going into the final event for the first time since 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi did battle against Clay Regazzoni.

It has been an incredibly consistent season for Verstappen, who has nine wins, nine pole positions and finished in the top two for 16 of the 17 races he has finished.

Verstappen could earn a 17th podium in Saudi Arabia that would equal the record jointly held by Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Schumacher for the most in a single season.

But victory is all that really matters to both drivers on Sunday, with a brand-new circuit containing 27 corners – the most on the F1 calendar – set to play a huge role in determining the outcome of a dramatic season.

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton celebrated consecutive Formula One wins for the first time since May in the first-ever edition of the Qatar Grand Prix.

Verstappen limited the damage despite a five-place grid penalty due to a yellow-flag infringement in qualifying, impressively recovering to finish second.

The Dutchman also took the extra point for the fastest lap, assured of beating Hamilton to that feat due to a late virtual safety car following a series of punctures.

That outcome set up a tantalising final two races of the season in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

The two title rivals were joined on the Losail podium by Fernando Alonso, the two-time champion's first top-three finish since 2014.

Valtteri Bottas, running in third, suffered a puncture as he attempted a one-stop strategy and ultimately retired, while Sergio Perez questioned Red Bull's call to bring him in twice as he pursued a podium.

The Mexican could not catch Alonso and had to settle for fourth place, ahead of Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN SAUDI ARABIA

With all the momentum behind him, Hamilton goes into the race at Jeddah Corniche Circuit as the favourite for victory, a result which would put the record eighth title within his grasp.

But for Verstappen this event is the first of two opportunities he will have to be crowned world champion. Even a small mistake from either driver at this stage could prove pivotal and the stakes could not be higher.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said their W12 car is performing better than it has been all season ahead of the event, with Red Bull under pressure to bounce back.

The constructors' championship is also up for grabs. Red Bull have closed to within five points of their rivals, while Ferrari are looking to lock up third place ahead of McLaren.

Aside from the championship implications, the debut of the fastest street circuit on the calendar at another new F1 venue should be intriguing.

F1 have revealed average speeds are predicted to be over 155mph with top speeds almost reaching 200mph in what could be a spectacular night race under the lights.

TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

Hamilton history – The Briton has become the F1 driver with the most seasons (eight) that contain at least seven victories, surpassing Schumacher (seven seasons).

Maiden Mercedes – The team have won the race and taken pole position in the last five circuit debuts in F1. As well as in Qatar time out, it also happened in Sochi (2014), Baku (2016), Mugello (2020), Portimao (2020).

Pole position – If Mercedes claim pole it will be their fourth in a row and best run of the season. However, Red Bull have had the better of qualifying this season, as Hamilton and Bottas combined (eight) have fewer poles than Verstappen alone (nine).

Max milestones – Should Verstappen be crowned world champion, he will be the first Dutchman to achieve the feat, the first non-Mercedes driver to do it in the eight hybrid era years and the fourth-youngest in history at 24.

Perez progress – While Verstappen's team-mate will not be thrilled to sit fourth in the standings, he has still collected nine points more in 20 races for Red Bull (190) than his predecessor Alex Albon did in 26 races (181) for the team.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 351.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 343.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 203
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
5. Lando Norris (McLaren) 153

Constructors

1. Mercedes 546.5
2. Red Bull 541.5
3. Ferrari 297.5
4. McLaren 258
5. Alpine 137

Williams founder and former team principal Frank Williams has died at the age of 79.

Having founded the team alongside Patrick Head in 1977, Williams saw the team he built become one of the most successful in Formula One.

They won nine constructors' championships and seven drivers' championships across his time with the team. Williams have not claimed either since winning both in 1997 when Jacques Villeneuve won the drivers' crown.

The team sold to US investors in 2020. Williams and his daughter Claire, who had served as deputy team principal, moved away from F1 last year.

A statement from Williams read: "It is with great sadness that on behalf of the Williams family, the team can confirm the death of Sir Frank Williams CBE, founder and former team principal of Williams Racing, at the age of 79.

"After being admitted into hospital on Friday, Sir Frank passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his family.

"Today we pay tribute to our much loved and inspirational figurehead. Frank will be sorely missed. We request that all friends and colleagues respect the Williams family's wishes for privacy at this time."

Referencing the spinal cord injury suffered in a car crash in 1986 that left Williams in a wheelchair, F1 president and chief executive Stefano Domenicali said: "He was a true giant of our sport that overcame the most difficult of challenges in life and battled every day to win on and off the track.

"We have lost a much loved and respected member of the F1 family and he will be hugely missed.

“His incredible achievements and personality will be etched on our sport forever. My thoughts are with all the Williams family and friends at this sad time."

Lewis Hamilton is hopeful that future team-mate George Russell will be the next Briton to win the Formula One world championship.

The British drivers will link up next season, with Russell set to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.

The 24-year-old is 15th in the drivers' standings, having achieved his first podium with Williams at the Belgian Grand Prix, while also recording top-10 finishes in Hungary, Italy and Russia.

Many expect Russell to offer a genuine challenge to Hamilton, who recently signed a new two-year deal with Mercedes, with the latter seeking an eighth world title and just eight points behind leader Max Verstappen heading into the final two races of the 2021 season.

The 36-year-old is anticipating a healthy rivalry with his compatriot and hopes he can be a positive influence on the 2018 Formula 2 world champion.

"You've seen George is hugely respectful," he said in an interview published by BBC Sport.

"He's a super-talented young man and I think there's a huge amount of respect already going in, and we've got a nice balance at the moment.

"But he's going to want to be quick, he's going to want to show up and win, and do all those things that you do when you enter a new role.

"I remember in 2007 when I went up against [Fernando] Alonso [at McLaren]. Of course, I wanted to beat him at the first race, so I appreciate and expect George to have that mentality; otherwise he's not a winner.

"But I'm in a different place. I really want to see him succeed. There's going to be a point where I don't continue in this sport. He's my team-mate, and he's going to be the next Brit that I want to see win a world championship.

"So, while we are going to be competing, and I want to win on track. I really hope I can have a positive influence on how he conducts himself within the team, whether it's the time he commits to engineering or how he churns through the data, or even just how he drives on track."

Lewis Hamilton is aiming to be the "smarter" driver as he bids to outrun Max Verstappen in a remarkably close Formula One title challenge.

Hamilton is hunting a record seventh world title, but currently trails Verstappen by eight points heading into the final two races of the season.

The 36-year-old has won the last two grands prix, however, having followed up his triumph in Sao Paulo with success in Qatar last weekend.

Hamilton and Verstappen's contest has regularly boiled over onto the track, the former penalised for a collision at Silverstone, while the latter was punished at the Italian Grand Prix and was fortunate to escape a penalty for a near-miss in Brazil.

"Rather than giving someone the benefit of the doubt, you have to know that's what's going to happen," Hamilton told BBC Sport.

"So you always have to be ready to avoid a collision at all costs, [even] if it means going wide, because you want to see the end of the race, right? If you're stubborn and you hold your ground, you're going to crash.

"So that's what I've just tried to do. You can't always get it perfect.

"I am not too big or too successful to have to back out to fight another day. I know that is sometimes the route you have to take. You have to be the smarter one.

"And sometimes you lose points in doing that, for sure, but it's not just about me. I have 2,000 people behind me and through that selfish decision I could make. That costs all my team potential bonuses at the end of the year, all the hard work they have to do, the damage of the car. I am conscious of those things also."

Hamilton believes driving, and winning, in as pure a fashion as possible is the best way for him to prove his quality.

"It's just how my dad raised me," said Hamilton. "He said to always do your talking on the track.

"I was bullied as a kid, both at school but also on track, and we wanted to beat them the right way, not by a car falling off or colliding.

"Then, there is no denying that you're better. I want to be the purest of drivers, through speed, through sheer hard work and determination, so there's no denying at the end what I've accomplished."

Of Verstappen's aggressive approach, Hamilton said: "He's not the only driver I've raced against that's like this.

"I've raced so many drivers in my time and they've all been very different in the way they behave. And it's interesting.

"Now I'm older, I look a little bit deeper into their character and a bit of their background, upbringing. Our upbringing is why we act out the way we do and behave the way we do, good or bad. So I try to understand those so I can have more appreciation of who that character is I am racing with."

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