Once more unto the breach...
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has seen several Championships decided on its tarmac since it was first introduced to the calendar in 2009. And what more fitting way to celebrate the half-century unification of the United Arab Emirates than with the most hotly contested season finale since 1974 when Emerson Fittipaldi (McLaren) and Clay Regazzoni (Ferrari) were tied equally on 52 points.
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have been “at it” all season long, with the Championship swinging backwards and forwards between them from one race to the next in one of the most entertaining seasons of many a year. Like the design philosophies of their cars (Mercedes low rake and Red bull high) the drivers are also at polar opposites of their careers – Max at the relative beginning and Lewis at his relative end (I’d wager he will retire as an undefeated champion if he wins on Sunday). And while “A clash of the Titans” is an overused cliché, and one I would usually avoid. In this instance, I will use it unabashed for two reasons. Firstly, they have pretty much been racing in a different space-time continuum to the other competitors - winning seventeen of the twenty-one rounds to date between them. Secondly, the racing has also been highly combative, exchanging blows on the track – literally!
Despite their points being level, Verstappen has an advantage. He has one more win in the bag than Hamilton. Should they end the race on equal points Max will lift the crown. The cynical would say that this can best be achieved by colliding with Hamilton in a manner that would finish both their races. It wouldn’t be a precedent in Formula One! However, despite what we’ve seen recently, I don’t think Max is that man. He can beat Hamilton without stooping to that level. With a bit more “thinking” and a little less “dancing”, it’s in his grasp.
Focus is, therefore, very much around on these two drivers and the world will follow closely how things unfold over the weekend. Set-up as always, will be key at Yas along with the wind direction. There, are suggestions that the Mercedes and their "spicy" engine have the advantage but I’m not so sure. Much will depend on set-up as both teams seek to ameliorate their weaknesses by leveraging their strengths. The track has been modified – to the good, I think. And I feel Mercedes will run more wing to improve their pace through the corners at the expense of reduced straight-line speed. With Red Bull heading in the opposite direction to try and improve it since their chassis has the best mechanical grip. Car wise this could turn out to be one of the more evenly matched races. Meanwhile, in between FP1 and Qualifying there will no doubt be plenty of radio “please sir, look sir, there’s some jiggery-pokery going on over there” by the teams. Don’t be surprised if you see Michael Massi walking around with cotton wool in his ears!
So, what should we expect from the race? I suspect we will see one of two scenarios. Either a first corner or early lap incident that will result in race retirement damage of a Red Bull and/or Mercedes – Yawn. Or a 40 plus lap thriller as two of the finest drivers on the grid battle it out for the ultimate Motorsport prize. I Predict the supporting show will also consist of “best head-set toss” by a team member. Most “Calls to Michael/Walks to the Stewards office” by an angry senior team member, and finally “Most humble pie eaten after alluding to the incompetency of the Official(s).” The constructor’s championship for the latter is a lockout already. Either way, both drivers deserve it but there can be only.