Max Verstappen and Red Bull were celebrating after rivals Mercedes failed to overturn the result of an extraordinary final race of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen won the race and with it the championship on Sunday, passing title rival Lewis Hamilton on the last lap after a safety car deployment transformed the race.

Starting the race all square with Verstappen at the top of the standings, it seemed as though Hamilton would clinch a record eighth driver's title when he built up a healthy lead in the closing stages.

However, the British driver's advantage was wiped out when the safety car came out after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

Verstappen pitted to get fresh tyres for a potential shot at passing the Mercedes man, and he got that chance when race director Michael Masi ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one lap of racing between the contenders.

Verstappen beat Hamilton as Mercedes fumed, with Masi explaining to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

As Red Bull soaked up their sensational victory, Mercedes launched a formal protest "against the classification established at the end of the competition".

They complained that Verstappen may have briefly edged in front of Hamilton, who had position as the lead car, and also protested over how rules were applied concerning when lapped cars can overtake under safety-car conditions.

While race stewards accepted Verstappen had "for a very short period of time" moved slightly ahead of Hamilton, they were satisfied that he dropped back behind the leader before the safety car period ended.

The second part of the appeal was also rejected by the stewards, who announced that news in a statement.

The stewards declared that "once the message 'safety car in this lap' has been displayed, it is mandatory to withdraw the safety car at the end of that lap" and "notwithstanding Mercedes' request that the stewards remediate the matter by amending the classification to reflect the positions at the end of the penultimate lap, this is a step that the stewards believe is effectively shortening the race retrospectively, and hence not appropriate".

"Accordingly, the protest is dismissed," the stewards added.

It remained to be seen whether further steps would be taken by Mercedes.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, quoted by the BBC, said: "We are going to go and celebrate this championship now. Thank you very much."

Mercedes have had their first protest against the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix dismissed by race stewards.

Max Verstappen won the race and the championship in dramatic circumstances on Sunday, passing Lewis Hamilton on the final lap after the safety car had been deployed.

Having entered the race all square with Verstappen at the top of the standings, it seemed as though Hamilton would clinch a record eighth driver's title when he built up a healthy lead in the closing stages.

However, Hamilton's advantage was wiped out by the deployment of a safety car that was sent onto the track after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

Verstappen pitted to get fresh tyres for a potential shot at passing the Mercedes man, and he got that chance when race director Michael Masi belatedly ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one lap of racing between the contenders.

Verstappen beat Hamilton as Mercedes fumed, with Masi explaining to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

As Red Bull celebrated their sensational victory, Mercedes protested "against the classification established at the end of the competition".

Mercedes' protest alleged Verstappen had overtaken Hamilton before the safety car pitted and opposed the decision to allow the selection of lapped cars to pass.

While race stewards accepted Verstappen had "for a very short period of time" moved slightly ahead of Hamilton, they were satisfied that he dropped back behind the leader before the safety car period ended.

Red Bull had argued that Hamilton had never been overtaken, rather that both cars were "on and off the throttle" and that there were "a million precedents" where cars had moved alongside an opponent while under a safety car before dropping back.

No decision had yet been announced by the FIA – the sport's governing body – with regards to Mercedes' second protest.

The finale to the 2021 Formula One world championship was fitting entertainment at the end of an extraordinary season.

On the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton and crossed the line in first place to become world champion for the first time.

Hamilton had looked on course for a record eighth driver's title until the safety car came onto the track after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

It led to a thrilling but controversial finish – but should it have been done differently?

What happened?

Latifi hit the barriers on lap 54 and the safety car was deployed while the track was cleared.

Given Hamilton had been approximately 12 seconds clear in the lead at the time, Red Bull opted to pit Verstappen for fresh tyres in case a late dash for the chequered flag became a possibility. Hamilton stayed out, his team having warned that bringing him in for a tyre change would have given up track position to his title rival.

Discussions were then held between the respective team principals and race director Michael Masi over how the race would be concluded.

Red Bull's Christian Horner asked why cars that had already been lapped were not being allowed to pass the safety car once it was safe, which would have cleared the track between Verstappen and Hamilton and allowed for a last-lap race for the line.

Race Control, having initially declared that lapped cars would not be released, then gave the order for the five drivers keeping Verstappen from the back of Hamilton to pass the safety car.

This meant that, once the safety car left the track, racing could resume for one final lap – giving Verstappen, on far fresher tyres, the opportunity he needed to pass Hamilton and win the race, thereby clinching the title by just eight points.

Shortly after the race, Mercedes lodged an appeal against the result, citing alleged breaches of Article 48.8 and Article 48.12 of the rulebook: the first relates to overtaking under the safety car, while the second concerns the process of releasing lapped cars.


Why was it controversial?

The Formula One regulations for 2021 state: "If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message 'LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE' has been sent to all competitors via the official messaging system, any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.

"This will only apply to cars that were lapped at the time they crossed the line at the end of the lap during which they crossed the first safety car line for the second time after the safety car was deployed. Having overtaken the cars on the lead lap and the safety car these cars should then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and make every effort to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car. 

"Whilst they are overtaking, and in order to ensure this may be carried out safely, the cars on the lead lap must always stay on the racing line unless deviating from it is unavoidable. Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap."

The rules do not specify whether the race director may allow only some of the lapped cars to pass, and not all. This is why Michael Masi's decision to release only the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton, allowing for a final lap of racing between the title contenders, has caused such a debate.


What has been said?

Horner told Sky Sports: "We felt hard done by with the stewards at the beginning of the race, but they did great to get the race going again.

"We were screaming at him [Michael Masi]: 'Let them race'. That's what we've been talking about all year and this championship came down to the last lap. A great strategy call to make that pit stop, to take that set of softs, and then it was down to Max to make it happen.

"It's unheard of to leave the cars unlapped. You could see they wanted to get the race going again, and they don't need to catch up the back of the paddock. They made absolutely the right call - difficult circumstances, and they called it right."

George Russell, who will join Mercedes for the 2022 season, said on Twitter: "THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we've just seen."

Lando Norris, the McLaren driver who was one of those allowed to pass the safety car, said: "I'm not too sure what was said from the FIA. At first, we weren't allowed to overtake, as the backmarkers, so if that influenced decisions to Mercedes and to Lewis and that's the reason they didn't do their pit-stop...

"But then the FIA suddenly changed their minds and they were allowed to let us past. That's where I'm not so sure. For it to end like that, I'm not so sure."

Damon Hill, the world champion in 1996, said on Sky Sports: "This is like running a motor race in a way we've not been used to in the past. They've kept us guessing all the time as to which way a decision is going to go. One team who is not going to be complaining about what happened is Red Bull."

Nico Rosberg, who won the 2016 title, said: "First they said you're not allowed to unlap themselves, then they changed that message once they saw it was safe to do so.

"The thing is that in the document it says 'all cars will be required to unlap themselves' and yet they only let those five cars that were between Lewis and Verstappen unlap themselves. That's where Mercedes are asking if it's okay or not. But I guess in the end Michael Masi can decide what he wants, he's the race director."

Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, said: "It definitely went Max's way only letting those five cars past but earlier in the race it sort of went Lewis' way. Michael Masi wants to get them racing, he doesn't want to decide the world championship."

Mercedes launched an official protest after Max Verstappen controversially beat Lewis Hamilton to the Formula One title on the final lap of the season.

Hamilton had reeled in Verstappen in the closing weeks of the campaign and led his rival for much of Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Having entered the race all square at the top of the standings, the victor of a battle between Hamilton and Verstappen would decide the championship.

Hamilton's advantage was wiped out by a safety car, under which Verstappen pitted to get fresh tyres for a potential shot at passing the Mercedes man.

He got that chance when race director Michael Masi belatedly ruled lapped cars could overtake the safety car, which headed in and allowed one lap of racing between the contenders.

Verstappen beat Hamilton as Mercedes fumed, with Masi explaining to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff: "We went car racing."

As Red Bull celebrated their sensational victory, Mercedes protested "against the classification established at the end of the competition".

The protest focuses on articles 48.8 and 48.12 in the sporting regulations of governing body the FIA, each of which relate to the safety car.

Article 48.8 instructs that cars cannot overtake behind a safety car, with footage suggesting Verstappen may have briefly edged in front of Hamilton, who had position as the lead car.

Article 48.12 relates to when lapped cars can overtake under the safety car.

Max Verstappen admitted it was an "unbelievable" and "incredible" feeling after snatching his first Formula One world championship in the most dramatic fashion at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Verstappen entered the final race of a gripping season level on points with Lewis Hamilton, who was seeking a record-breaking eighth drivers' title.

The Red Bull star found it a struggle to match Hamilton, who was in charge of much of the title decider.

However, his team's decision to pit and opt for fresh tyres late in the race while Hamilton did not – as well as the necessary intervention of a safety car with four laps remaining – proved decisive.

Verstappen subsequently passed the defending champion at Turn 5 on the final lap – much to the dismay of an incensed Mercedes team – and became Red Bull's second world champion, after Sebastian Vettel.

"It's unbelievable," Verstappen said. "Throughout the whole race, I kept fighting, then there was the opportunity in the last lap. It's incredible.

"I don't know what to say. My team and Honda deserve it. Finally, a bit of luck for me!

"My team know I love them; I hope we can do this for 10, 15 years together. I don't want to change ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life, if they will have me.

"I'm so happy. Our goal was to win this championship when we came together and now we have done that."

Verstappen added: "My goal when I was little was to become an F1 driver. You hope for wins, you hope to be on the podium, when they play the national anthem, you one day hope they'll play yours.

"Now, standing here and they tell you you're the world champion is something incredible."

Verstappen also paid tribute to rival Hamilton, whose wait for that eighth world title goes on.

"Lewis is an amazing driver, an amazing competitor," Verstappen said.

"They made it really, really hard for us. The two teams went against each other and we had some tough times, but that's part of sport and the emotion, everyone wants to win.

"It could have gone either way today and next year, we'll come back and try it all over again."

Lewis Hamilton spoke of his pride in his Mercedes team after they "gave it absolutely everything" but came up just short in the Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was bidding for a record-breaking eighth title in 2021 and battled back admirably after trailing Max Verstappen for much of the year.

It looked as though the Mercedes great would pip Verstappen as he led for the majority of Sunday's decisive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, only for a late safety car to bring the Dutchman back into contention with one lap to go.

Verstappen, on fresh tyres, was able to get past Hamilton, leaving Mercedes furious with race director Michael Masi.

Immediately after the heartbreaking finish, though, Hamilton congratulated an emotional Verstappen and then turned his attention to the Silver Arrows staff.

"Firstly, a big congratulations to Max and to his team," Hamilton said. "I think we did an amazing job this year.

"Everyone back at the factory, all the men and women we have, they've worked so hard this whole year. It's been the most difficult of seasons. I'm so proud of them, so grateful to be a part of the journey with them.

"We gave it everything in this last part of the season, absolutely everything. We never gave up.

"I've been feeling great in the car this past couple of months, particularly at the end.

"But we're still in the pandemic and I just wish everyone to stay safe and have a good Christmas with their families and we'll see you guys next year."

Max Verstappen sensationally won his first Formula One world championship ahead of Lewis Hamilton as an epic title race concluded in predictably contentious circumstances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

In only the second championship chase to see the top two enter the final race of the season all square on points, Verstappen had to match Hamilton but struggled to do so for much of Sunday's remarkable race.

Red Bull were furious following an early flashpoint that had Hamilton ahead, yet Mercedes were outraged by the chequered flag as Verstappen, on fresh tyres, was allowed a single lap after a safety car to take the title.

Hamilton looked to have done everything right but paid for Mercedes' call not to bring him into the pit lane in the closing stages.

A tough start had been forecast for Hamilton when he stuck with medium tyres while Verstappen – and others close behind – used softs. Instead, rapid reactions at lights out put the Mercedes in front.

But then the drama truly began, as Verstappen looked to go up the inside at Turn 7 and Hamilton was forced wide and off the track to avoid contact.

The defending champion clearly gained an advantage and pulled away from his rival, only for the stewards – in a decision Verstappen considered "incredible" – to deem Hamilton had given enough time back.

Verstappen and Hamilton both switched to hards in the pits, putting the frontrunner behind Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull car.

Perez doggedly held Hamilton up and brought Verstappen back into play before the Silver Arrow finally got through, able to again build a big lead until a virtual safety car provided another twist.

With Hamilton staying out, Verstappen headed in for a cheap pit stop, potentially setting up a nervy finish with a 17-second deficit on fresh tyres.

Verstappen struggled to find the requisite pace but was given another lifeline by a safety car with four laps remaining.

Again he pitted as Hamilton did not and a dramatic finish saw lapped cars allowed to pass the safety car, infuriating Mercedes and leaving Verstappen one lap to go at the race leader, who he decisively passed at the last.


This was a day to tune into the team radios, with a number of intriguing exchanges as momentum swung back and forth.

Verstappen hailed Perez as a "legend" for delaying Hamilton, while the Mercedes man considered his team's decision not to box "a bit of a risk" long before another gamble spectacularly backfired.

But Toto Wolff's pleas to race director Michael Masi were the obvious standout, as Hamilton was left exposed on the final lap. "We went car racing," replied Masi.


Hamilton fell just short of history on this occasion, stuck on seven titles alongside Michael Schumacher, but there was a new landmark for champion Verstappen.

His 18th podium of the year was undoubtedly the sweetest and made the Dutchman the first man to reach that mark in a single F1 season.


Away from the title race, Kimi Raikkonen's record-extending 351st and final grand prix in Formula One did not end as planned, with the veteran experiencing braking issues and hitting the barriers at Turn 6 as his rear axle locked up.

Although Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo limped back to the pits, he could not continue and was given a standing ovation as he prematurely exited his car.

Max Verstappen won a controversial rollercoaster Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton to sensationally claim his first Formula One world championship.

Emerson Fittipaldi is one of only two men who knows exactly the emotions Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton will experience as they do battle in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Verstappen and Hamilton head into the final grand prix of the Formula One season tied at the top of the standings on 369.5 points.

Red Bull's Verstappen has a slight advantage, having won more races – a potentially pivotal tie-breaker – and taken pole on Saturday, but he will start alongside Hamilton on the front row.

At the 1974 United States Grand Prix, Fittipaldi lined up next to title rival Clay Regazzoni – albeit in eighth and ninth – in the only previous example of the top two being all square heading into the last race of the year.

"[There was] incredible pressure on myself, on the team, on my family, on my friends, on the sponsors," Fittipaldi told Stats Perform.

"When you think [about] going to the last race on equal points, I don't even call it a race, I call it like a duel.

"And knowing that only one is going to be world champion, there's no other chance. After two hours, someone is going to be world champion – one or the other.

"There was tremendous pressure, with all my race experience. I raced in Indianapolis, everywhere, the Brazilian Grand Prix, Monza – where I decided my first world championship.

"I had never experienced so much pressure in my career. I only slept like three hours the night before."

Now as an outsider, though, Fittipaldi is relishing seeing F1's two modern superstars go toe-to-toe in the most highly anticipated grand prix in years.

"I know that's going to happen on Sunday with Max and Lewis," the Brazilian said. "They will have so much pressure. The teams are under tremendous pressure and remember the families, the sponsors, the public.

"It will be a fantastic grand prix to watch. And this is why I say it's one of the best situations ever for a Formula One grand finale – it will be a grand finale, for sure."

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."

Max Verstappen's flying performance secured pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton declared Mercedes had no answer to his pace.

Hamilton and Verstappen head into Sunday's race vying for the title. Both drivers are level on 369.5 points, though Verstappen holds an advantage courtesy of his nine race wins in 2021, to Hamilton's eight.

Red Bull driver Verstappen may have taken a big step towards claiming his maiden title, and ending Hamilton's dominance, however, after he recorded a best time of one minute and 22.109 seconds in his first run of Q3 in Saturday's qualifying session.

Hamilton will start in second, having clocked in at 0.371 seconds slower than his title rival, with Lando Norris in third place. Sergio Perez, who went out ahead of Verstappen in Q3, towed his Red Bull team-mate down the long straight, taking a hit on his own time in the process.

The Mexican nevertheless will start in fourth, two places ahead of Valtteri Bottas in his final race for Mercedes, who are 28 points ahead of Red Bull in the constructors' championship, which is also up for grabs.

For his part, Hamilton was just happy to have kept Verstappen within touching distance, with the reigning world champion complimentary of his rival, who said on Thursday that the Briton had gone down in his estimations.

"Firstly, Max did a great lap today. We just couldn't compete with that time at the end," Hamilton said.

"It was looking really strong through practice. We just couldn't answer to that lap. We're in a good position I'd like to think with our tyres tomorrow.

"The last lap was nice and clean, I just couldn't go any quicker. I couldn't beat that time he did today, he deserved pole. I'm still on the front row. I'm grateful I can see where he is!"

Verstappen looked set for pole in Saudi Arabia last week, having gone fastest in the first two sectors, but he hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, handing Hamilton the first place on the grid.

After claiming his eighth pole of the season, Verstappen said: "It's of course an amazing feeling. We definitely improved the car again in qualifying. Incredibly happy with this.

"It's never easy with [Mercedes'] form the last few races. I am just looking forward to tomorrow because that's where the points are.

"I felt good on both tyres. Naturally now in the evening it's a bit cooler, so it should be easier on the soft tyres. We'll see where we end up."

Lewis Hamilton "feels great" at the end of the first day of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but is expecting a "super close" race regardless.

Hamilton goes into Sunday's final race tied with title rival Max Verstappen on 369.5 points, with a record eighth World Championship on the line for the Mercedes driver.

It is only the second time the top two have gone into the last grand prix of the season level on points after Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni in 1974.

Hamilton set the fastest time in FP2, going three-tenths clear after finishing third in FP1 behind Verstappen and team-mate Valtteri Bottas at Yas Marina Circuit.

"[The car] doesn't feel too bad," Hamilton said. "It started off good but got a bit worse in P1, then started off better in the second session with some changes we made.

"Now we just have to crank through the data and try to figure out how we can improve, where we home in. The target is always moving, but yes, otherwise, I feel good.

"I feel good, I feel great in my body and as I said, I think we made some positive steps set-up wise, so we'll try and perfect it tonight and come back hard tomorrow.

"It's obviously close between us all. We got through our sessions a bit unknown in terms of pace but I'm sure it's going to be super close like it has been in previous races."

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner, however, was less upbeat about his team's chances of success, citing Mercedes' strength in the first two sectors.

"[Mercedes] look very competitive here, certainly in the first two sectors," Horner said. "I think Sector 3 we come back at them, but the damage is done in the first two sectors. We've still got 24 hours or 23 hours [before qualifying] to try and find a better set-up and a bit more pace.

"We've got plenty of data, we've got some areas of the car we need to tidy up overnight. It's going to be a long evening certainly here, back in Milton Keynes, trying to tidy up the car. I think the long run pace looked sensible; we just need to tidy up the pace for the short runs."

Verstappen echoed Horner's sentiments, finding some positives in the long runs, but admitting the short runs needed work.

"I mean, we're still learning and understanding a few things but of course clearly the short run didn't go to plan – lacking a bit of pace – but the long runs were quite a bit more competitive so of course, that's also a bit more important," Verstappen added.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen set the pace in Friday's two Abu Dhabi Grand Prix practice sessions as the Formula One title race remains too close to call.

The championship will be awarded after Sunday's final race, which Hamilton and Verstappen enter all square on 369.5 points.

It is only the second time – after Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni in 1974 – the top two have been tied in the standings ahead of the last grand prix of the season.

Verstappen's superior wins record means he would take the title if neither driver finished in the points, but that seems unlikely – barring a dramatic crash – based on Friday's results.

The Red Bull posted the fastest time in the first session at one minute and 25.009 seconds, with Hamilton back in third, behind Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

But Hamilton, Esteban Ocon and Bottas all beat Verstappen in FP2, the defending champion out in front with a time of one minute and 23.691 seconds in a session that was much faster than FP1.

The second session, in which Verstappen was more than six-tenths off the pace, should in theory be more indicative of the race, taking place later in the day at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen's final weekend in Formula One got off to an unconvincing start as the retiring former champion hit the wall at Turn 14 in FP2.

Raikkonen emerged from his car unharmed but left Alfa Romeo with plenty of repairs.

Lewis Hamilton is not concerned about colliding with Max Verstappen in the decisive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he prepares to go "full steam ahead" in his quest to make history.

Hamilton and Verstappen will start the last race of the Formula One season at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday level on points in a captivating battle for the title.

Tensions between the defending champion and Red Bull's Verstappen heightened further in a chaotic Saudi Arabia Grand Prix last weekend, which Hamilton won to set up a thrilling finale.

Verstappen was penalised five seconds for leaving the track to gain an advantage and another 10 for causing a collision with Hamilton.

Hamilton accused the Dutchman of going "over the limit" after their latest clashes in Jeddah, while Verstappen said when they faced the media on Thursday that the Mercedes man had gone down in his estimations this season.

Verstappen will be crowned champion for the first time if Hamilton fails to pick up as many points as him due to winning more races this season and the 24-year-old said he will do "whatever is necessary" to win the title.

But Briton Hamilton is not giving any thought to the prospect of missing out on a record eighth title due to another collision.

Asked about the possibility of that happening, Hamilton said: "No, I honestly don't give it any energy.

"I'm here to do the best job I can with this incredible team and going back again, we never thought we'd be neck and neck going into the last race; we've had an amazing recovery collectively as a team and we've been in a great position these last few races.

"So, we go full steam ahead with that focus, and we don't waste energy on things that are out of our control.

"I think at the end of the day, I do believe that everyone here racing comes to win, I would like to believe everyone wants to do it the right way. So, I don't even let that creep into my mind."

Hamilton is sticking with the mindset that he is "the hunter" rather than a history-chasing defending champion.

"At the moment it just feels like another championship to me, I don't look at it as another multiple," he said. "I just look at it every season and every year from ground zero, you're the hunter and you're fighting from the moment you start training.

"The moment you get into the new year you're focused on training and winning. I don't turn up with ‘Number One’ on my car, I turn up with Number 44, I don't consider myself the one that's fighting for a championship."

Verstappen topped the podium in Abu Dhabi last year to halt Mercedes' run of six consecutive victories at this race, but Hamilton is hopeful the Silver Arrows can maintain the standards that have seen him win three races in a row to reel Verstappen in.

He said: "They won here last year. So without doubt they're going to be strong this weekend. But we've chased and caught up a lot and I think we can come here and be strong this weekend."

Fernando Alonso claims Max Verstappen has been the standout driver in Formula One this season, declaring the Red Bull star to be "one step ahead" as a winner-takes-all battle with Lewis Hamilton looms.

Two-time former drivers' championship winner Alonso claims Verstappen "deserves it" ahead of this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; but, like everyone, he is waiting keenly to see what unfolds.

The experienced Spaniard, currently with middle-of-the-pack Alpine, is too wily to predict anything at this stage, as Verstappen and Hamilton head into the final race of the season locked together on 369.5 points.

It is a scriptwriter's dream as the season comes to a close, but if Alonso looks back across the year, his hunch is that Verstappen has been the outstanding driver.

Looking ahead to Sunday's showdown, Alonso offered his expert view, saying: "It will depend on the package a little bit; 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.

"In a way, that's my opinion: Mercedes deserve the constructors' championship because the car is superior and Max, maybe overall in the year, was driving one step ahead of everyone."

It will come down to nerve and driving excellence on Sunday, plus whatever the teams can do to help the championship-chasing pair.

Alpine star Alonso is a former team-mate of Hamilton, dating back to 2007 in their time together at McLaren. That was Hamilton's first year in a Formula One seat, and in the final race of the season both the McLarens and Ferrari star Kimi Raikkonen were in the title frame.

Hamilton led the championship going into that race in Brazil but could only finish seventh, while Alonso took third and Raikkonen won the race. It meant Raikkonen carried off the title, with Hamilton and Alonso just one point behind the Finn.

The battle between Hamilton and his Mercedes team and Verstappen with Red Bull has become increasingly tense as the season has edged towards this remarkable finale.

Hamilton is chasing a record-breaking eighth title, which would take him above Michael Schumacher, while the 24-year-old Verstappen has yet to be crowned champion.

"It's not that I support Max. It's that he deserves it in my opinion," Alonso said, quoted on

"Everyone has a different opinion, but he is driving that Red Bull to another level. I think it is very interesting to watch from the outside, that’s good.

"What is happening at the front, as a motorsport fan you are following and you are aware of the stress... and it’s nice to watch from the outside."

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