Lewis Hamilton celebrates his win in Saudi Arabia
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on 5 Live and the BBC Sport website at 13:00 GMT on Sunday

Chaos, crashes and controversy – the 2021 Formula 1 season has had it all – and sets up a thrilling winner-takes-all finale between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

It has been a roller-coaster year with the championship lead changing hands a number of times over the course of the 21 races, but Hamilton’s win in Saudi Arabia last time out means the pair head to Abu Dhabi dead level.

BBC Sport takes a look back at some of the key moments of one of the most memorable seasons in Formula 1 history.

Red Bull rise at the Emilia Romagna GP

Max Verstappen wins the Emilia Romagna GP
Max Verstappen took the first of his nine wins this season at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

It was clear in pre-season that Red Bull had the pace advantage over Mercedes and they took their first win of the season in the second race.

Both drivers displayed their credentials as the main title hopefuls, with Verstappen recovering from half a spin following a red flag to power off to a victory, while Hamilton overcame a rare error that saw him slide into the barriers at half-distance to finish second.

There was even a hint of what was to come in the tussle between the two when Verstappen forced Hamilton wide early on as the two raced side-by-side.

Sparks fly at Silverstone

This was the race where the tensions in the title battle really took off.

Verstappen arrived at Silverstone in strong form after winning three races in a row, but Hamilton as in no mood to see his rival celebrate another victory in front of the Briton’s home fans.

At Copse corner on the very first lap the two collided. Verstappen’s race was ended immediately and there was even a trip to hospital for precautionary checks. Hamilton, who was blamed for the crash and given a 10-second time penalty, went on to claim a dramatic win.

Those in the Red Bull camp did not hold back with their criticism of Hamilton after the race, with Verstappen calling his celebrations on the podium “disrespectful” and “unsportsmanlike” while team principal Christian Horner said it was a “hollow victory”.

Having started the British GP 32 points adrift of Verstappen, Hamilton finished it just seven behind. A seismic moment in the 2021 title battle.

Another collision in Italy

Italian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton was protected by his halo device when his Mercedes and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull collided in Italy

With tempers flaring after that Silverstone race, there was little surprise at another coming together between the two.

The second time this season the pair collided was at the Italian Grand Prix.

At this point, Verstappen’s lead over Hamilton was five points but neither driver was able to pick up an advantage from this race as their crash led to both retiring.

The incident happened midway through the race when Hamilton came out of the pits alongside Verstappen and as the pair battled for position the two collided, with the rear of Verstappen’s car landing on Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Both retired, beached in the gravel. The Dutchman was deemed “predominantly to blame” and handed a three-place grid penalty by stewards for the next race.

Hungary chaos helps Hamilton

Formula 1
A crash on the first lap of the Hungary Grand Prix caused chaos

After a blistering start to the season, disaster struck for Verstappen at the Hungarian Grand Prix – the final race before the summer break.

The first few laps of the race were some of the most dramatic seen in F1 for years as wet conditions resulted in a first-lap pile up in which Verstappen became tangled up in. Five cars were eliminated and although Verstappen was able to continue, his Red Bull was damaged and performance seriously compromised.

Nevertheless, things still looked OK for the Dutchman with Hamilton finding himself dead last after five laps because of a delayed pitstop, but the seven-time world champion fought back superbly to finish third and move into an eight-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship.

Team tensions also simmering

Red Bull and Mercedes
Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff have had plenty of verbal sparring throughout 2021

Tensions were not just heightened between the drivers, there has been a war of words between the rival teams off the track for much of the season.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner have had plenty to say about each other’s team.

Most recently, Red Bull raised concerns about the legality of the Mercedes rear wing, with Horner claiming it was giving Hamilton a speed boost over Verstappen.

Those concerns came after Mercedes had requested a review of Verstappen’s driving during the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, a review that was rejected by the FIA.

Nothing may have come by either team’s objections – be it the car’s legality or a driver’s conduct – but the relationship between Red Bull and Mercedes has hit an all-time low in 2021.

Saudi drama sets up thrilling finale

Hamilton and Verstappen have collided three times on track during the season, and have traded the title lead seven time. Hamilton has eight race wins to Verstappen's nine

The final flashpoint to get the title battle to a winner-takes-all finale happened just a few days ago – at the chaotic and controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

In one of the most dramatic grands prix in years, the race was stopped twice, featured three starts and had an extraordinary series of events between the title contenders.

But the most significant event happened in the final few laps when race leader Verstappen was told to give back a position to Hamilton that he had gained illegally.

Communication confusion resulted in Hamilton being caught off guard by Verstappen slowing down and he crashed into the back of the Red Bull, prompting Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff to slam his headphones to the floor in frustration as he watched from the pits.

Despite damage to his front wing, Hamilton was able to continue but Verstappen did not give back the position until six laps later.

Hamilton went on to win the race while Verstappen finished second despite being handed further time penalties, setting things up for Abu Dhabi.

Around the BBC iPlayer bannerAround the BBC iPlayer footerSource: BBC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *