Formula 1 Warns Max Verstappen Not to Play the Nuclear Option Against Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi

Article Highlights:

  • The 2021 Formula 1 championship comes down to Max Verstappen vs. Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
  • The two drivers are tied in points, but Verstappen holds the tiebreaker advantage based upon race wins
  • Race director Michael Masi has issued a stern warning about intentionally causing an accident

Don’t even think it, Max Verstappen. And that goes for teammate Sergio Perez, team principal Christian Horner, and anyone else associated with Red Bull Racing. Verstappen holds the tiebreaker in his Formula 1 duel with Lewis Hamilton, but there’s only one way that rule comes into play.

And if it does, the motorsports circuit’s race director says he’d have no issue with coming down harder on Verstappen than the Dutch driver’s car did on Hamilton’s Mercedes in the Italian Grand Prix this summer.

Max Verstappen vs. Lewis Hamilton for all the Formula 1 marbles

Lewis Hamilton, right, leads Max Verstappen during the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 9, 2021. | Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton, right, leads Max Verstappen during the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 9, 2021. | Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Drivers Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain have engaged in a back-and-forth battle for the World Drivers’ Championship.

Hamilton came out of the gate strong by winning three of the first four races, but Verstappen responded by taking the checkered flag in four of the next five. Had he not cut a tire while leading comfortably late in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Verstappen would have won all five races in that stretch.

After Verstappen prevailed late in the Formula 1 season at the U.S. GP and Mexico City GP to move close to an insurmountable lead, Hamilton responded with wins in the last three showdowns, in Brazil, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Amazingly, they stand at 369.5 points apiece heading into the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP. Should the championship come down to the tiebreaker, Verstappen denies Hamilton a record-setting eighth championship on the basis of a 9-8 lead in race victories.

Max Verstappen owns a tiebreaker that no one wants to see used

The duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton evokes memories of the 1974 Formula 1 season in which Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni entered the final race tied for the points lead, with Jody Scheckter still within range. Fittipaldi held the upper hand because he owned three victories in 14 races to one for Regazzoni and two for Scheckter.

The tiebreaker never came into play. Fittipaldi placed fourth at Watkins Glen to pick out three crucial points and present McLaren with its first championship. Regazzoni crossed the finish line in 11th place, and Scheckter did not finish.

This time around, Verstappen owns that 9-8 lead in race wins. At the risk of stating the obvious, he wins his first World Drivers’ Championship by finishing ahead of Hamilton, and even the bonus point for the fastest lap wouldn’t be able to save the four-time defending champ.

However, there is the nightmare scenario in a 20-car race in which only two cars really matter. If neither Hamilton nor Verstappen finishes in the points, then Verstappen wins. Ditto if neither driver finishes the race.

And that’s where the conspiracy buffs enter. In 1997, Michael Schumacher tried bumping Jacques Villeneuve out of the season-ending European GP but failed, allowing the Canadian star to claim the title. If Verstappen should happen to be leading late but feels Hamilton making a move, perhaps on fresher tires, well …  

Formula 1 warns Max Verstappen not to play the nuclear option

Formula 1 race director Michael Masi is laying down the law. According to The Sports Rush, he announced this week that a crash that he deems intentional will result in a penalty, up to and including one that could deny Verstappen his breakthrough championship.

That seemingly takes wrecking Hamilton’s Mercedes, even at the risk of taking his own car out of the race, off the menu.

“I can’t control the actions of the two individuals, only they can. But within the regulations we have penalties, be it time or grid penalties. In addition, the International Sporting Code has provision for the stewards to disqualify a competitor or dock championship points.

“So, yes, Max could be deducted points, as could any team. We hope it isn’t necessary, but it is one of the tools available. I will remind all the teams and drivers of these provisions.”

Michael Masi

Realistically, the last thing Formula 1 officials could want is to strip either driver of the championship based upon behavior. Still, they removed Michael Schumacher from the standings completely in 1997 after the run-in with Jacques Villeneuve, so there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t take drastic action again with the whole racing world watching.

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