Dead even and down to the wire, but has it got too dirty?

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Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have produced a System One season for the ages. The enthralling title race has generated buzz, drawing new eyes to the game. However have the driving and disagreement crossed the restrict of what’s acceptable?

System One had been ready for this for a very long time. Ever because the laws had been overhauled in 2014, with the game switching to the hybrid energy unit, Mercedes has been dominant. Save for Ferrari’s transient challenges throughout components of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Silver Arrows have typically entered the observe safe within the data that the race was theirs to lose.

Whereas the drivers make the game what it’s, engineering excellence performs a defining function, with the quickest automobile being extra necessary for achievement than the quickest driver. For F1 to have an thrilling season, the primary requirement is to have at the least two intently matched groups. This isn’t a straightforward factor to realize, particularly in fashionable F1, contemplating the various budgets throughout the grid.

 

However 2021 has been completely different. Purple Bull has discovered the fitting engineering options to match Mercedes so evenly that simply a few tenths of a second have separated the groups throughout 21 races up to now.

And lo and behold, F1 has had essentially the most thrilling season in years, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen producing one dramatic race after one other. Going into the season finale, the 2 drivers are tied on factors, with Verstappen larger within the standings by advantage of getting extra wins.

The parity between the 2 groups has additionally meant the rivalry between the drivers has been intense as they’ve typically crossed swords on the sharp finish of the grid.

Verstappen has all the time been some of the aggressive drivers on the grid, with a take-no-prisoners angle in shut fight. Till this season, nevertheless, he by no means had the automobile to struggle for the title, which meant there was not an enormous draw back to his driving model. So it was attention-grabbing to see whether or not the younger Dutchman would change his strategy this yr.

Whereas he was circumspect, understanding he had a automobile that didn’t want over-driving, he was pretty combative and obtained the higher of Hamilton in wheel-to-wheel battles within the first half of the season.

From round mid-season, issues began getting tense between the 2. Silverstone was the spark that lit the fuse. Hamilton drew a line within the sand, deciding he wasn’t going to let his rival dictate phrases. Verstappen got here off worse within the skirmish. Then in Monza, the 2 took one another out.

Although the stewards break up the blame between the drivers — Hamilton in Silverstone and Verstappen in Monza — these had been borderline racing incidents. To a big extent, that is what the followers need to see: two drivers on the prime of their sport going at it with their elbows out.

However an ill-tempered disagreement between the drivers and workforce bosses had begun to accompany the on-track racing, with nothing seemingly off limits — neither snide barbs on the standard of the opponent’s driving expertise nor questions concerning the legality of the opposite’s automobile.

 

Tensions rose through the Brazilian GP when Purple Bull requested the FIA about Mercedes’ rear wing after the Silver Arrows discovered an additional step of their straight-line pace. The FIA found a small subject — not the one Purple Bull raised — and despatched Hamilton to the again of the grid for the dash race. This transfer by Purple Bull was seen as payback for Mercedes questioning Purple Bull’s rear wing, alleging that it was flexing greater than legally permitted, which had prompted the FIA to subject a brand new technical directive.

Regardless of the grid penalty, Hamilton got here again combating and received the race however not earlier than he was pushed huge off the observe by Verstappen. It was a borderline transfer that attracted no penalties, nevertheless it set a precedent for what is taken into account acceptable racing and had a direct impact on what unfolded in Jeddah. Verstappen tried the identical transfer once more, and what had appeared like onerous and truthful racing till then all of a sudden veered right into a doubtlessly harmful state of affairs.

Verstappen produced three questionable strikes on Hamilton in Saudi Arabia and was deemed to have been at fault on all three events. First he pushed Hamilton huge regardless of the latter having edged barely forward earlier than the braking level. Then he went off-track to remain forward and, when requested to surrender the place, he was adjudged to have brake-tested Hamilton whereas slowing down, inflicting the seven-time champion to hit him from behind.

Hamilton was a contact lucky: not solely did he not undergo big harm, however he additionally obtained away with greater than a touch of cheekiness. His not desirous to cross the slowing Verstappen earlier than the DRS detection zone — cautious of ceding the benefit of utilizing the DRS on the beginning/end straight to his rival — contributed to the incident, too.

At Jeddah, it was as if Verstappen, understanding he had a barely slower automobile, was able to put every little thing on the road to remain forward, contemplating he had an eight-point lead and was not overly bothered about each of them not making the end.

If one had been to hint Verstappen’s lineage among the many sport’s historic greats, he’s clearly from the Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher faculty of driving, which argues that exceptionally gifted drivers ought to give no inch to their rivals and sometimes push the bounds of what’s acceptable. It’s no shock that Senna and Schumacher had been principal actors in 4 separate title-deciding remaining races that resulted in crashes.

Even earlier than the occasions of Sunday, the tight battle this season has renewed much-needed curiosity among the many followers. The circumstances of this yr’s struggle make for a compelling, natural narrative. Whereas Hamilton is the senior statesman combating to create historical past — a report eighth crown would put him above Schumacher — the prodigious Verstappen is hoping to safe his first world title, one thing that many consider is his future since he began racing professionally in karts.

It has additionally come on the proper second within the sport’s historical past. F1, which has labored onerous to faucet new audiences, has begun to have some success, thanks largely to its ‘Drive to Survive’ documentary collection on Netflix. The present has managed to make even the final three boring championship seasons look attractive, providing a small peek into the glamorous world of F1.

Though the occasions of Sunday set the digital world on fireplace and have now arrange an enthralling remaining race — for the primary time in 5 years, the title is on the road within the season-ender — one additionally wonders if the rivalry has gone too far.

The season has seen some breathtaking racing from the protagonists, however the prospect of the title struggle ending in a crash or, worse, the stewards’ room is beginning to look very actual. One hopes this isn’t the ultimate chapter of what has been among the finest seasons of all time. Nothing turns off potential new followers just like the title being determined off-track in incoherent legalese.

The 2 drivers owe it to the followers to race clear and provides a becoming finish to a championship that can be remembered for years to come back.