Ein meters more and you end up in the sea. The parking spaces for Formula 1 drivers at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix were built right on the water’s edge, and the new route runs through the port of Jeddah. Parking next to and driving on the track will be a tightrope walk this weekend.
The driving is on a street circuit, this type of route traditionally has almost no run-off zones. One mistake – and you hit the barrier. So the race could be over quickly. And in the worst case, probably also the world championship dreams of Max Verstappen, who is currently number one. In front of a Mercedes.
This constellation actually seemed unthinkable for years. At the start of the season, hardly anyone expected that anything would change in the hegemony of Mercedes cars. It turned out differently: The fight for the World Cup crown is more exciting than it has been for a long time.
“We were hungry every year to break the dominance,” says Verstappen in Saudi Arabia. Now it could finally be that time. For the first time since 2016, the Formula 1 world champion could not be called Lewis Hamilton, for the first time since 2013 the champion could not come from Mercedes. At that time, Sebastian Vettel won the title with Red Bull. At the moment, Verstappen is leading the drivers’ standings with just eight points ahead of Lewis Hamilton. “It was a great year for us, we had a lot of great moments,” said the 24-year-old Red Bull driver.
There are still two races to contest. On Sunday (6.30 p.m., RTL / Sky) the new street circuit in Jeddah will be used, with the final in Abu Dhabi following just a week later. “It is the closest and most demanding duel that the sport has seen in a long time,” said Hamilton. A duel in which the Briton has more experience. The 36-year-old shares the record with Michael Schumacher with seven titles. One more and he would keep him alone. This is one of the reasons why, says Hamilton in Saudi Arabia, he is “more relaxed than ever”.
While this duel is still taking place on the track, it is already clear to everyone in the paddock: It is a duel for the history books. So exciting, so tight and so dogged. This is one of the reasons why it is worth taking a look at and comparing it with the most exciting World Cup duels of recent years. The names are big, the stories legendary.
The tightest duel
Their duel even drew the attention of big cinemas. The world championship fight between the Austrian Niki Lauda and the British James Hunt in 1976 was decided by only one point difference and was shown years later as a successful film on the screen. At that time, the two drivers went into the last race of the season with this small gap, which was too dangerous from Lauda because of the heavy rain.
A few months earlier, he had barely survived his serious accident at the Nürburgring and suffered burn injuries that had accompanied him until the end of his life. Lauda parked his Ferrari during the race in Japan and lost the title to Hunt.
There is only one point that Verstappen and Hamilton have not yet been apart. But again and again both came so close to each other that a victory could turn the tide. This is also the case for the season finale. Nobody can afford a failure. Then the world championship fight would be over.
The greatest rivalry
The duel between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost is considered to be the greatest rivalry between two drivers in Formula 1. In 1988 and 1989 they were team-mates at McLaren, mainly battling each other for the title. In 1989 both collided in the penultimate race in Suzuka. Senna wanted to overtake his team-mate, Prost held against it. Both were eliminated and Prost took the title.
In 1990 the revenge followed. Senna shot Prost, who now drove for Ferrari, shortly after the start in Suzuka. Again both were eliminated, but this time Senna secured the World Cup trophy.
In an interview with WELT AM SONNTAG, Prost compares the time back then with today’s: “Max is a bit more like Senna at the beginning of his career. Lewis is a bit more calculated today. He is more experienced and has seven titles under his belt. If you want to compare it with back then, he’s a little more like me than Max. “
The decisive accident
Michael Schumacher’s first world title was also decided by an accident in the end. The Kerpener went into the last race of the 1994 season in Adelaide as the leader. When Damon Hill tried to overtake the Benetton driver in a corner, the two crashed into each other. Schumacher was eliminated directly, and at first it seemed as if Hill could go on and secure the title.
But a little later the Briton also had to park his car. The pictures of Schumacher burying his face in his hands went around the world.
If Verstappen only wins second in Jeddah and Hamilton wins, the Dutchman would still go into the final race of the season as the leader. In the event of an accident in the season finale in Abu Dhabi, in which both competitors were eliminated, he would be world champion. Weeks ago, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff indicated in an interview with the English “Daily Mail” that a crash could ultimately lead to the World Cup decision. Alain Prost also says: “Something like that could happen.” But such mind games are not an issue for Verstappen. “I don’t think about it. I’m only here to get the best out of the car, ”he says.
Most of the bills
The World Cup leadership has switched back and forth between Verstappen and Hamilton five times in the past few months. First the British led, now the Dutch. Should Hamilton become world champion, they would have to be swapped again. Never before have there been so many leadership changes between just two drivers. The current season is only exceeded by 2010. However, six different drivers led the overall standings during the season.