Going into the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix later today (05/12), Hamilton trails Verstappen by just eight pointsMorio/Wikimedia Commons

Lewis Hamilton cannot have experienced many more satisfying weekends than he did at Interlagos in Sao Paulo last month (12/11-14/11). Having topped the first qualifying round, he was referred to the stewards for an infringement relating to his DRS system, which forced him to start at the back of the grid for the sprint qualifying session. In just 24 laps of racing, he managed to pull himself up to fifth in the standings. But further misfortune struck when he was given a five-place penalty for exceeding the permitted number of engines allowed for the season, meaning he started the race proper in tenth position.

What followed was some of the most remarkable racing I have seen in a long time. Hamilton glided past driver after driver, eventually reaching level with race leader and title rival Max Verstappen. The two battled for a while before Hamilton stretched a lead, marking one of the greatest comeback victories in motorsport history. There is no doubt that Hamilton’s Mercedes was the fastest car on the track that day, but this does not mean his performance is not worthy of the utmost praise. Hamilton this season has sometimes struggled with his car, but on that Sunday evening he exhibited magisterial control, looking fully at ease with the Mercedes.

“Verstappen has won nine races this season, and four of the five other drivers to ever record this number of victories went on to become reigning champions”

Hamilton’s unlikely victory placed him fourteen points behind Verstappen in the championship race, with three races then left to take place in the Middle East. Hamilton enjoyed a far smoother route to victory in Qatar two weeks ago (21/11), starting on pole and experiencing little danger of losing the lead despite Verstappen’s valiant effort from 7th to an eventual 2nd position. Going into Saudi Arabia later today (05/12), the gap stands at a mere eight points, with the Mercedes looking faster than it has done all season.

Since the beginning of the ’Hybrid Era’ in 2014, Mercedes have been the dominant force in Formula 1. Each one of the seven Driver’s Championships from then on has been awarded to Mercedes, with six of them going to Hamilton himself. However, this year is different. Verstappen has won nine races this season, and four of the five other drivers to ever record this number of victories went on to become reigning champions.

Those who have witnessed Hamilton’s meteoric rise and subsequent dominance of the sport would be remiss to count him out until the chequered flag waves in Abu Dhabi on 12th December. With a stunning win in Brazil evidence of the Brit’s skill and desire to win, coupled with Qatar’s result, Verstappen, for all his talent, will be checking his shoulder anxiously.

“Verstappen’s fiery manner and Hamilton’s desire to achieve a record eighth F1 title are a volatile mix in the closing stages of the season”

Throughout his career, Hamilton has had no shortage of intense rivalries at the wheel. There was of course the spectacular fallout with teammate Nico Rosberg at Mercedes and the spat with Fernando Alonso, as well as several minor skirmishes with Jenson Button, during his earlier time racing for McLaren. Yet all of those tensions were intra-team conflicts, meaning that the emergence of a frosty relationship with Verstappen is fairly newfound territory for Hamilton. A lack of genuine title challengers over the past seven years, bar Rosberg in 2016, has ultimately meant that Hamilton has to do very little in terms of off-track mind games.

The current rivalry has produced several moments of controversy as the season has progressed, not least during São Paulo’s race. As Hamilton approached an overtake on the 48th lap, Verstappen leaned his Red Bull into the path of Hamilton, forcing him wide off the track. The stewards’ decision not to penalise Verstappen was described by Mercedes principal Toto Wolff as a ‘punch in the face’, while Red Bull boss Christian Horner, a polarising figure in the paddock, waved off Hamilton’s claims. This incident marks a long run of contentious run-ins between the two, some of which have resulted in spectacular crashes. At the Italian Grand Prix in September, a collision resulted in Verstappen’s car landing on top of the Brit, with his wheel resting on Hamilton’s halo - yet another endorsement of the invention’s life-saving capacity.


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Everyone wants to see competitive racing on an F1 track; critics of Mercedes argue that they have made the sport boring by their prolonged period of dominance. This season’s contest between Verstappen and Hamilton, however, has been thrilling but, in light of these dangerous occasions, how far is too far? The competitive will to win from both drivers has already resulted in such collisions, and Wolff himself has not ruled out the possibility that either driver may deliberately crash into the other in order to win the championship. F1 has come on in leaps and bounds in terms of driver safety over the past few decades, but moments like Romain Grosjean’s horrific crash last year in Bahrain highlight the dangers contained within the sport. Verstappen’s fiery manner and Hamilton’s desire to achieve a record eighth F1 title are a volatile mix in the closing stages of the season, and one that the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) needs to keep a close eye on.

One of the most exciting F1 seasons in recent memory will shortly come to a close, where either Hamilton or Verstappen will be crowned victor in Abu Dhabi. But despite the entertainment they have provided, the pair must be aware of both their own wellbeing and that of their fellow drivers, not allowing the rivalry we all love to descend into mortal chaos.