Abu Dhabi – Lewis Hamilton put on his poker face on Thursday ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he will attempt to claim an unprecedented eighth world title.
Max Verstappen, meanwhile, said he hoped the championship would not be decided by “controversial decisions” by the stewards.
Hamilton, a seven-time F1 champion, heads into the Formula One season finale on Sunday in a tie with Verstappen atop the standings after three straight victories. The Briton will claim the title with a victory at the Yas Marina Circuit, where he has already won five times.
“Obviously with the year that we’ve had, I am sure many people would have ruled us out being this close right at the end,” said Hamilton, 36, during a news conference Thursday.
“It’s been an incredible group effort from everyone back at the factory and at the track.
“No one has ever done eight before, but I feel grateful.”
Hamilton, who was 23 when he won his first title in 2008, empathiszd with the 24-year-old Verstappen, who is bidding for his first.
“I remember what it’s like going for your first, so I know,” he said. “I had those experiences and the roller coaster of emotions that you go through.”
The young Dutchman won comfortably in Abu Dhabi a year ago, although Hamilton had already wrapped up the title by then.
“I wasn’t 100% that weekend,” Hamilton said.
“But, still, they (Red Bull) were very, very strong here last year and they will be strong here again this weekend.”
Verstappen was cautious about his hopes of repeating that success and taking the crown on Sunday.
“After last year, I didn’t have a lot of hope that we would be sitting here at the end of the season fighting for a title,” he said.
“But I think from the start, we were very competitive. We had good results, a bit of bad luck as well. But overall, we can be really proud of the whole team effort.”
Changes that have made the Yas Marina Circuit faster and wider could reduce lap times by up to 15 seconds, which could favor Hamilton and Mercedes and their “spicy” new engine.
“I think the places where we were particularly weak are no longer there, so that’s positive,” Hamilton said.
“But they (Red Bull) will still be strong in the new places.”
With more space to pass, the race should not suffer as many safety car interventions or red flags as last week’s chaotic contest in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a race that also featured the latest in a series of incidents between the two leaders this season.
At Silverstone, Verstappen ended up in the crash barriers. At Monza, his Red Bull went airborne and landed on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes. In Saudi Arabia, Verstappen was ordered to give up the lead to Hamilton for an illegal maneuver and handed a five-second penalty.
That prompted suggestions, including from former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, that the stewards were favoring Mercedes.
Both drivers played down the possibility the title might be decided by the stewards.
“I think already, throughout the year, there have been a few things which were maybe a bit controversial,” Verstappen said.
“It is what it is. You can’t really do anything about it. I think we just have to focus on the positive for this weekend. We just want action on the track.
“I think from both sides, we want to win clearly and it should be about that, not about controversial decisions.”
Hamilton, who shares the record of seven titles with Michael Schumacher, welcomed race director Michael Masi’s warning about driving standards.
In his routine official notes, Masi signaled that the FIA will not tolerate the kind of deliberate “foul” that has decided past championships.
If neither man finishes, Verstappen will take the title because he has won more races.
“It’s happened in the past obviously and I am sure the stewards then hadn’t taken the precautions they have this time around,” Hamilton said.
“I think it’s fair that they do it and, hopefully, they won’t need to be used and we have a great race.”
“I’m here to do my job and don’t really want to see the stewards and they don’t want to see me.”
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