Image: Wikimedia Commons / Morio
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Morio

The race of our lives

At the start of the 2021 F1 season, many were expecting, or at least hoping for, one of the best Formula 1 seasons in recent memory, after years of drab, predictable racing. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes had dominated for years, with a far superior car to the rest of the field, consequently rendering every season somewhat null and void, with the only interest generated by the competition for which car and driver was the ‘best of the rest’.

While some fans slowly started to filter away from the sport, Netflix’s Drive to Survive series managed to draw some back in, focusing the narrative away from the predictable title-race to the previously little-known-about and more intriguing personal dynamics. These armchair fans, at the start of the season, may have kept half an eye on what looked like a potential title-race, and may even have sat up a little bit as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen started to pull away but now, as the season reaches its climax, the competition is such that the whole world is watching.

Unlike what many people may have predicted, Hamilton and Mercedes did not start to pull away, after swatting away the pesky Red Bull like an annoying fly. Rather, Verstappen’s Red Bull set the pace, at one point leading by 32 points, and seemingly being set for the title. This is no typical F1 season, however, and, with the help of a new and improved engine, Hamilton began to claw back the lead, meaning that they go into today’s race level on points, with Verstappen ahead on races won.

Circumstances have dictated that only one thing is for certain, and that is the fact that this will be a race like no other, and perhaps even the race of our lives

On the surface, this is enough for a block-bluster final race, but if you dive a little deeper, you find the circumstances that make this the most fascinating F1 race of all time. Away from the track, this clash has become a clash of personalities, of styles, and even of ethics. At the level of the team management, Christian Horner of Red Bull has taken swipes at Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, over the design of the Mercedes car, while also claiming that his driver has been unfairly treated and sanctioned by the FIA.

And when it comes to the drivers, Hamilton and Verstappen are polar opposites. On the one hand you have the youth, the other, the experience. In Verstappen, due to his brave (or reckless) driving style, you have the rebel, as opposed to Hamilton’s orthodoxy. In terms of personality, Verstappen is brash, confident and out-spoken, the typical Dutchman, as opposed to the seemingly calm and composed Hamilton, the picture of Britishness.

All these qualities and oppositions have coalesced into setting these two rivals, and undoubtedly two of the best drivers of all time, against each other at the top of the grid, and they will line up against each other in this defining Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Verstappen is on pole, after an outstanding lap in qualifying, but he is starting out on soft tires, a different tyre strategy to Hamilton, who will be on mediums.

In terms of fanbases, this rivalry has divided F1 like no other. Personally, as a Dutchman I prefer Verstappen and his more bold and exciting racing style, while I also believe that he has been unfairly vilified by the media in recent weeks. Others, will back Hamilton, who, on his recent form, is the favourite for this race. This season, like no other in Formula 1 history, however, has been unpredictable, but circumstances have dictated that only one thing is for certain, and that is the fact that this will be a race like no other, and perhaps even the race of our lives.

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