Verstappen vs. Goliath

Who will win, Stefano? And Domenicali, the smiling CEO in a fantastic glass-enclosed hotel booth that hugs the Yas Marina runway, responds: “Formula 1”. The most exciting season in recent times, the only one to reach the 22nd grand prix with the top two drivers even on points, concludes today in Abu Dhabi. Even if the topic is used, there can only be one champion. From pole, exuberant yesterday, Verstappen. The aspirant, the leader of the World Cup, the young man called to lead the next generation of talents. From second position, Hamilton. The seven-time champion, in search of a dream-like eighth that would forever tie him off with Schumacher in the history books and enlarge the legend of Mercedes.

The talk with a ‘main team’ in another fun terrace of the emirate throws clues, what the eye does not see. “Lewis was again the most consistent. The only one, with Fernando, capable of repeating the highest level for twenty-two races.. The Mercedes was more consistent, possibly the best car of the year “, but Max regrets not having pulled the calculator at Silverstone or Hungary, two races in which, overwhelmed by Hamilton and Bottas respectively, he suddenly yielded 42 rental points. If it wins, it will override that indentation. If he loses, the World Cup escaped him then, not now. There are cars with which a great driver has to win, even if they are not dominant. “The Ferrari of 2018 and 2019 …”. And this fantastic Red Bull RB16B is one of them.

“If anything this season shows is that F1 is a sport for drivers, you just have to see the differences between colleagues with the same car “, underlines this authoritative source. The indisputable statistical hegemony of Hamilton admits some debate when one leaves aside the how many and one thinks about the who. Sir Lewis made it to the final race four times with a chance to win the title. He lost two, in 2007 (Kimi) and in 2016 (Rosberg). He won two, in 2008 (to Massa) and 2014 (to Nico). The other five he conquered without breaking a sweat against Rosberg (2015), a Vettel who was no longer the four-time champion (2017 and 2018) and Bottas (2019 and 2020), runner-up but not a candidate.

As if it were not enough to beat the driver with the most triumphs of ever at the wheel of the car with the most consecutive successes and in full succession, since he was warmed up in Interlagos, Verstappen has had to face in recent weeks the British ‘lobby’, that ethereal presence in the paddock and in the press that Alonso referred to so many times as an enemy. From the letter in ‘Autosport’ that read “Max, please don’t do it”, to the Christmas advertisement on ‘Sky Sports’ with the accident in Great Britain for which the Dutchman ended up in hospital. Max’s cantankerous performance in Jeddah fueled a bad rap, although the consequences of that third ring of the year were mild compared to England and Monza. Lewis, who has made the most of wrestling so far, looked like a martyr in Saudi Arabia.

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A pole that changes the mood

With consecutive victories in Sao Paulo, Losail and Jeddah, the emotional leadership belonged to Hamilton, although the tie favors Verstappen. The supremacy of Mercedes in the final third of the season has been unquestionable against a Red Bull against, But that set of moods took a final turn yesterday with Max’s superb pole in Abu Dhabi, built on a generous slipstream from his teammate, Checo, and supported by strategy. Both will start with the soft tire through the middle of Hamilton. A guarantee for the start and the first laps at the cost of compromising the durability of the rubber in the first ‘stint’.

Red Bull prefers to win the position on the track and defend it, and their long runs with the red Pirelli were more than satisfactory. At the same time, Mercedes knows how to run at a disadvantage, that’s how they brought out the worst in Mad Max just seven days ago. Perez part fourth and must pester Lewis. Bottas, seventh, disappeared from the map when blood began to splatter. Even with Norris third, a luxury spectator who does not have the slightest intention of getting where he is not called, and Sainz fifth, all eyes are on. Any authoritative voice will say that until the traffic light goes out (2:00 p.m. CET, 5:00 p.m. Abu Dhabi), the World Cup is 50 percent for everyone. From then on, it will be time to make history. Or repeat it.

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