Year after Abu Dhabi: The battle between Hamilton and Verstappen

Year after Abu Dhabi: The battle between Hamilton and Verstappen

12-12-2022 08:38 Last update: 09:54

It has been exactly a year since Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battled each other for the world title in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Both drivers battled for the lead in the world championship all season and went into the final race of the season with an equal number of points. Since then, a lot has changed in Formula 1.

No Formula 1 fan will ever forget the 2021 Abu Dhabi race. Verstappen qualified on pole position, which seemed to give him an advantage. However, his rival Hamilton was off to an excellent start and captured the lead. During the race, Verstappen received some support from Sergio Perez, who kept Hamilton behind for several laps, slowing his progress down.

Hamilton drove ahead and was well on his way to taking his eighth world title, which would officially put him in control of the record. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as everything turned upside down for him after Nicholas Latifi's crash. The safety car went in a lap before the end. Verstappen drove behind him on fresher, soft tyres, with which he was a lot faster than Hamilton. As a result, the Dutchman took his first world title. It is an event not to be forgotten, but what change has the Abu Dhabi race brought about in the past 12 months?

Confidence from Verstappen and Red Bull

Red Bull Racing's role has clearly changed this season. Back in 2021, the team was still seen as Mercedes' challenger. It was a role that exclusively Ferrari managed to occupy from 2014, but the Italian formation failed to do so for the whole season each time. It usually had to drop out of the team around the summer break, while Red Bull proved capable of thwarting Mercedes to Abu Dhabi. Christian Horner's team managed to carry the confidence into this year.

Indeed, this season Red Bull developed in a different way, reminiscent of the period from 2010 to 2014. Back then, with Sebastian Vettel, they took four world titles in a row. This race year, despite a poorer start to the year, Verstappen managed to dominate and take the world title several races before the end in Japan. They also finished by winning the constructors' championship. The only disappointment of the year was that Perez narrowly missed out on a second place in the world championship, but that will by no means affect confidence. For now, no team can keep Red Bull from a sense of invincibility.

Other choices in race management

Michael Masi faced a lot of criticism in 2021. How different it was two years before when the race director took over from Charlie Whiting who died suddenly. The Australian had a relatively quiet time in his first two years, as Hamilton took the world title in both seasons without a hitch. Last calendar year, however, that changed when Mercedes and Red Bull both started pushing the limits of the rules.

Not only were there doubts about the quality of the stewards' decisions, but they often took a long time to come out with a final verdict. Masi's departure, therefore, came as no surprise. This season, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas alternated in the role of race director and there were hardly any discussions about his work. However, it could also have to do with the real battle that was missing because of Verstappen's supremacy. The actual test is still waiting for them.

The winning mentality in Hamilton emerges

Hamilton's loss in Abu Dhabi clearly triggered something in him. George Russell performed better in the early stages of the season, though this was potentially down to car development. In the second half of the season, however, Hamilton showed he is cut from the right cloth and is keen to go for his eighth world title. To do so, however, he needs to be patient, as for now, the German team does not seem capable of going for the win every race weekend.

He seems to be giving that time to Mercedes, as in the autumn Hamilton revealed that he is keen to extend his contract, which expires at the end of 2023. Mercedes also seems positive about a longer commitment, as they believe in Hamilton's winning mentality. Should Mercedes manage to have a similar car to Red Bull again in 2023, the Formula 1 world can look forward to a renewed battle between Hamilton and Verstappen. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that Russell will then get involved in the fight as well.

Growth in popularity of Formula 1

Partly due to the Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive, Formula 1's popularity has been on the rise for several years now. Although the episodes show the situation in the motorsport class dramatised to the public, fans feel more committed to the sport. However, other things have also helped to increase enthusiasm. Last year's tension did contribute to that.

The FIA hopes to create more excitement with the new regulations introduced this season and that will be very important to sustain growth. Indeed, the battle between Hamilton and Verstappen showed that Formula 1 can be sensational and create a lot of excitement among the public. Certainly one thing then became clear in last year's championship: the season does not end until you have crossed the finish line in the last race. And Hamilton will never forget that.