Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen insisted they are both up for the challenge as they enter the F1 season finale at Yas Marina Circuit in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.
The Drivers’ title rivals go into Sunday’s race tied at the top of the standings on 369.5 points after a thrilling battle all season in which Hamilton has fought bach to get level with Verstappen, and the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers both know what is at stake — winner takes all.
“This is unmarked territory. It has been an incredible effort from everyone in the team and back the factory for us to get back in the race and catch Max,” seven-time defending champion Hamilton said while speaking to the media at Yas in the UAE capital, with the Drivers’ trophy placed between him and Verstappen.
The Dutch Red Bull star, who is looking for his first title, added: “This experience has been so enjoyable this season. What we have achieved has been amazing and we are ready to go one more time.”
Speaking on the comings-together in recent races between the title challengers and some heated exchanges, Verstappen looked to play things down. “You go into every weekend just trying to be the best and the media hype these things. I don’t know what else to say. I am here and will just do my best to be the best.”
Hamilton added: “I agree. I can’t control the things around me and I arrive at every race in the same way and go through my normal preparations. There is a lot at stake but I go into this as just another race.”
When asked about some choice phrases mid-race to describe Verstappen after the younger driver forced him wide as he attempted to overtake in Jeddah last week, Hamilton explained: “Look, when we are in the race we say all sorts of things in the heat of the moment. I am just here for a great race. I don’t think we need to sit down together as he have had some great races and we both know what we need to do.”
All 20 drivers spoke to the media on Thursday, and there was only going to be one talking point at the top of the agenda.
George Russell of Williams clearly knows where his loyalties lie as he will be joining Hamilton at Mercedes next season to replace Valtteri Bottas.
“I hope Lewis can do it for obvious reasons,” he said, before adding more diplomatically, “but Max has done a great job. Most importantly I hope it is a clean race and the best man wins.”
For Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate for the final time, the mission this weekend is clear — win. “Our aim is to win both titles (Drivers’ and Constructors’), it is that simple. However it will not be easy and there is a lot of work to be done to make sure our team gets the job done. It is crazy Lewis and Max are level after 20-odd races. But it is a perfect ending and we are excited.”
Verstappen’s wingman at Red Bull, Sergio Perez, added: “Everyone is up for it and it is great how far we have come. It is a massive thing for the team and we will do all we can to get Max the title.”
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo stayed firmly on the fence, with his grin firmly in place. “I stopped giving predictions a long time ago,” Ricciardo joked. “But it will all come down to who has the ‘better’ weekend. Not necessarily the win but whoever gets ahead by the finish.”
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll added: “Lewis has the momentum I think, but Max will not go down without a fight as we saw last week in Saudi, where he fought until the end.”
F1 veteran Fernando Alonso, who now races for Alpine, came down on the side of Verstappen. “It has been a great season, but I think Max has been one step ahead of us all. We saw it last week in Jeddah as he was flying in qualifying until he touched the wall at the end. That lap came from Max, not Red Bull, and I think he will do enough on Sunday.”
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly also believes Verstappen can clinch his first ever Drivers’ Championship title. “You have to hand it to Max for how he has stepped up this season against the great Hamilton, so for me he deserves it.”