F1 Drivers of Interest: All eyes on Verstappen, Hamilton in finale for title

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton head into the last race of the F1 grand prix tied for points for just the 2nd time ever. In what has been a rivalry for the ages this season, Jesse Rubinoff gets you set for what should be a thrilling final chapter.

The producers of Netflix’s Drive to Survive couldn’t have come up with a better storyline for the final race of the 2021 Formula One season.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes enter Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tied atop of the standings for the world championship with 369.5 points apiece.

Combine that with all the drama both drivers have dished on and off the track and you have the most intense F1 title chase in recent memory (and people say I have a really good memory).

Simply put, we couldn’t ignore Verstappen and Hamilton for our "Driver(s) of Interest" season finale. Here are five notable/notorious moments between them plus why either driver could win the world championship.

Five notable/notorious moments of 2021

• Silverstone: Hamilton and Verstappen tangled right after the lights went out at the British Grand Prix. Verstappen spun out and off the track into the barrier and was hospitalized while Hamilton overcame a 10-second penalty to win his home event. Verstappen believed it was "really disrespectful" for Hamilton and Mercedes to celebrate after what happened.

• Monza: Hamilton had just exited the pits right ahead of Verstappen. The two locked up into the turn with Verstappen flying on top of Hamilton's car as both drivers were knocked out of the race. Fortunately, the rollover hoop prevented Hamilton from sustaining any serious injuries.

• U.S.: We're talking about practice but that didn't stop Hamilton and Verstappen from almost having another wheel-to-wheel incident. Verstappen backed off and flipped Hamilton the middle finger then called him a "stupid idiot" on the radio.

• Brazil: This one began before the race with Verstappen taking an up-close look at Hamilton's car while it was in parc fermé. Hamilton was penalized for a technical infringement while Verstappen escaped with only a fine for his excursion. The race itself was just as saucy. Hamilton was unfazed by the grid penalty and soared through the field and not even Verstappen could hold him off. Did Verstappen turn too late or did he try to run Hamilton off the track? Regardless, Hamilton scored the victory and kicked off the current three-race win streak that erased the deficit in the standings. Although Verstappen was not penalized, Mercedes continued to pursue disciplinary measures to no avail.

• Saudi Arabia: Just last week, Verstappen took a short detour over the curb to fend off Hamilton. Verstappen was told to give up track position to Hamilton and slowed down, or "brake tested" if you will, catching Hamilton off guard as he ran right into the back of the Dutch driver. Neither car sustained significant damage as Hamilton was able to take his broken (front) wing all the way to the chequered flag.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain crashes with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix, at Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy, Sunday, Sept.12, 2021. (Luca Bruno/AP)

Why Verstappen could win the world championship

Although both drivers are currently even in points, Verstappen holds the tiebreaker with more race victories: nine to eight.

Look, we’re not going to rule anything out. It’s possible neither driver scores points (like in Azerbaijan) or even finishes the race (cough Monza cough).

There's also the possibility Verstappen finishes ninth (netting two points) and Hamilton finishes P10 (one point) plus claims the fastest lap bonus point to keep both drivers all square. Hey, anything can happen in Formula One.

Verstappen is also the defending race winner at the Yas Marina Circuit — leading all 55 laps from pole position to chequered flag — although modifications have been made to the track in a few of the turns so it’s not quite as simple as copying and pasting the script from last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Qualifying is always key and Verstappen holds the edge over Hamilton there as well this season taking pole position eight times to five.

Don’t let his youth, brashness and fiery temper on the track fool you as "Mad Max" has 19 career race victories and actually holds the distinction as the driver with the most all-time wins without a world championship. At age 24, Verstappen’s time is now.

Why Hamilton could win the world championship (again)

While Verstappen seeks his first, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth driver's title.

Hamilton tied the great Michael Schumacher last season after winning his seventh and an eighth — plus fifth in a row — would be unprecedented.

His past four have been won with relative ease, none of them went down to the wire like this, and Hamilton will have to bring his A, B and C games to fend off Verstappen.

Verstappen has more wins this season, but Hamilton enters Abu Dhabi with the momentum having won the past three consecutively including back-to-back from pole position in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. That streak also erased a 19-point hold Verstappen had on first place.

Although Verstappen is the defending race winner, Hamilton has been victorious in Abu Dhabi more times than anyone else with five wins including 2018 and 2019.

Hamilton has also scored the fastest lap bonus more times this year (six to four) and you just know those pesky points will continue to come into play.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, celebrates from the podium after winning with second-place Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain from the podium during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Sunday, June 20, 2021.

Don't forget the constructors

There’s also the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull for the constructors’ championship. Mercedes holds a 28-point advantage as the German manufacturer aims for a record-extending eighth consecutive title. That would also put them in a tie with McLaren for third on the all-time list with Williams just one spot ahead in second place and nine titles. Mercedes still has a ways to go to catch Ferrari in first place with 16.

Never say never and should Red Bull claim the constructors, it would be its first since capping a four-peat in 2013. It would also be engine manufacturer Honda’s first since 1991.

What if Verstappen wins the driver’s championship and Mercedes win the constructors? It’s been done 10 times, most recently in 2008 when Hamilton captured his first driver’s title with McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa helped Ferrari claim the constructor’s championship.

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