Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton got back on track at Yas Marina Circuit during Abu Dhabi Grand Prix practice
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton is going for an eighth title in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Reuters

Fasten your seatbelts, guys, as we are set for one of the most sensational climaxes in Formula One history.

We have had Prost and Senna, Schumacher, Barrichello, Hakkinen, Massa and Alonso, Button, Hill and Mansell. But this year’s finale to the F1 season in Abu Dhabi could top the list of rivalries as young pretender Max Verstappen and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton cannot be separated after a frenetic, fast-paced and feisty season-long feud.

It seemed like we were witnessing a passing of the crown as the young Dutchman seemed to have the edge over his senior after years of coming up short, while the Briton was making history and shattering records.

Verstappen was the odds-on favourite to claim his first Drivers’ title as he surged ahead in the points standings earlier this year in his Red Bull, while Hamilton and Mercedes searched for answers.

But then something happened ... Hamilton rediscovered his mojo — channelling a younger version of himself to give as good as he got from the latest of his rivals wanting to topple him from his throne. One thing is for sure this season, Hamilton does not go down without a fight and, after controversial races in Brazil and Jeddah — plus a classic cruise in Qatar after a total of 25 grid position penalties for Hamilton over the weekend — the pair are now level on points.

While Verstappen has the slight advantage in race-win countback, the momentum is clearly with Hamilton as a series of ‘rookie’ errors have hindered the Dutchman — the youngest ever driver in an F1 race some seven years ago as a 17-year-old (he was in an F1 cockpit at 300kph before he even had a driver’s licence).

In recent years, such has been Hamilton’s dominance, the title had been settled long before the entourage descended on the UAE, but not a chance of that this time around, with Verstappen and Hamilton fighting tooth and nail for the bragging rights — sometimes with unfortunate consequences due to some erratic driving from both drivers as the season got more heated.

There has been no shortage of finger-pointing across the pit-lane as Red Bull and Mercedes blamed each other for a series of comings-together between the two best drivers on the planet.

It really got interesting in Brazil when Verstappen, under pressure from a vastly improved Hamilton Mercedes, appearing to force his rival off the track rather than ceding position. He avoided a penalty on that occasion and Hamilton eventually got past to win. This past weekend in Saudi Arabia — hosting its first ever Grand Prix — was almost an action replay as both drivers ran wide as Hamilton looked to overtake. Verstappen was not as fortunate this time around and was ordered to cede the position to Hamilton as he was ruled to gain an advantage by cutting a corner.

It would take a braver man than me to make a call on how things will go in Abu Dhabi, but fireworks will be guaranteed. Verstappen’s passion versus Hamilton’s cool head, it could all come down to one corner or one incident yet again, and it could go a long way to setting the stage for the future of the sport. Can Hamilton claim another record with an eighth title, or are we witnessing a changing of the guard? We will know soon enough.

Another intriguing factor is the Abu Dhabi track at Yas Marina Circuit, where major developments mean more overtaking opportunities and wheel-to-wheel racing.

For the first time in 13 years, drivers and teams will be facing unknown elements at Yas, with the new track layout — shortened by 273 metres to 5.28km.

Practice will be just as crucial as the race itself as teams look to find an advantage on the new track and qualifying could come down to fraction of a second and give either Hamilton or Verstappen the edge and pole position on Sunday. The rest is up to them ...