Who will be F1 2021’s champion?; it’s time for the Decider in the Desert, with Max Verstappen on pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton; drivers level on points before Abu Dhabi GP; watch race live on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event or Sky Showcase at 1pm, with extensive build-up from 11.30am
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 11/12/21 9:18pm
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s thrilling championship fight is set for a fitting finale in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi GP, which promises a close race of tension and “unparalleled pressure” as the title-chasing drivers go head to head once again for the ultimate prize.
Verstappen, chasing a maiden F1 crown, and Hamilton, in the hunt for an historic eighth, will share the front row of the grid come lights out at 1pm – live on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase – knowing that a win after 58 laps of action will seal the championship in style.
There would be no better way to settle what has been a remarkable and fiercely-contested season-long battle between the sport’s biggest stars.
“Whoever wins this F1 championship will fully deserve it,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle. “And it’s surely one of the best ever.”
Locked on 369.5 points apiece ahead of the 22nd and final race, just eight metres will split the rivals on the grid with Verstappen taking the pole advantage – although the opposing strategies from Red Bull and Mercedes leads to more 2021 unpredictability, and could prove a deciding factor.
Verstappen, following a lock-up in qualifying, will start on the soft tyres – granting him speed at the start but possibly problems later on – while Hamilton has the more suitable mediums, giving more strategy options.
And then there is the small matter of who can keep their head under immense pressure.
Max on pole position on soft tyres. Lewis second on the grid on mediums. Perfectly poised for the big showdown. Whoever wins this F1 championship will fully deserve it, and it’s surely one of the best ever.
Neither driver has showed signs of cracking thus far – and Verstappen’s surprise pole lap was hailed as “exceptional” and “magical” by Sky F1’s Nico Rosberg on Saturday – although the race conditions will be another thing entirely, as explained by the last driver to have beaten Hamilton to a title.
“It is one of the toughest moments in the career of a racing driver,” said Rosberg, who clinched his championship in Abu Dhabi, five years ago.
“When it all boils down to this one moment – everything you’ve been doing up to then, Max has been in F1 for seven years and this is his first big chance of achieving the dream of a world champion – it’s so, so tough.
“For Lewis, yes he’s done seven titles already but it’s still a big one even for him, to get that eighth title, beat Schumacher’s record. The pressure is just unparalleled.”
Rosberg also stated his belief that the pole lap under pressure was a “big step” for Verstappen towards becoming the sport’s 34th champion.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Everything is just massive at the moment. Being on pole and delivering such a lap even for himself. that gives him so much confirmation and security that, ‘I can perform under my best, even under this pressure’.
“That helps him going into the race, massively.”
“It gives Max confidence,” added Sky F1’s Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion and another of Hamilton’s former team-mates.
“Lewis wants to see a Max that’s loud and brash and saying everyone’s against me. But he’s not, he’s relaxed. And he’s just put it on pole.”
‘I hope we have many more seasons like this’
Verstappen and Hamilton’s championship battle has been intense and has often crossed the line, most recently in Saudi Arabia – a race of contact and penalties, after which the relationship between the rivals appeared at an all-time low.
Although speaking ahead of their final 2021 encounter, they spoke of respect for one another – and revelled in a title fight for the ages.
“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,” said Verstappen. “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
“It has been really enjoyable for most of the time. Of course, in 10, 20 years’ time, people will look back at it and even myself and you will remember this year, for sure.”
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s thrilling championship battle finishes with a winner-takes-all Abu Dhabi GP. Watch live on Sky Sports this weekend.
Hamilton said he “agreed fully” with his 24-year-old rival.
“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,” stated the Englishman, 36.
“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.”