Like all Formula 1 fans, Jenson Button is mesmerized by this enthralling 2021 season, the finale in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will decide the Title between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, the 2009 World Champion bravely predicting his former teammate will do the business.
It’s down to the wire for F1’s Clash of the Titans under the sparkling floodlights of a revamped, much faster and racier Yas Marina Circuit.
The Hamilton-Verstappen Title-deciding maths is very simple: he who beats the other over the line on Sunday, scoring points, will be 2021 F1 World Champion; however, if they both DNF or not score points Verstappen will be the Champ.
Speaking to Daily Mail ahead of the Title showdown of the century, Button is pumped up at the prospect: “This is an insane season. I mean you couldn’t script it, if Hollywood got hold of this F1 season and wrote it like this you wouldn’t believe it. You would say: Oh that’s too far-fetched.”
The feud between Hamilton and Verstappen has shades of the great rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost which more than once ended up in tears, most famously when the Brazilian took the Frenchman out at Suzuka in 1990 to win the Title.
The same thing could happen this weekend, with F1 fans wondering if Max will do the same to Lewis during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
I don’t think either of these guys wants to put the other one in the gravel and end the race
Button reckons this has Senna-Prost written all over it: “It’s definitely up there. Everyone will look back at Ayrton and Alain and their rivalry and that was a very fiery rivalry and incidents happened that caused both cars not to finish, which were more on purpose than accidents like it is with Lewis and Max.
“As long as it stays as accidents I think we love this rivalry and I don’t think either of these guys want to put the other one in the gravel and end the race, which is good. I think they both want to win it on track. They are both extremely talented.”
Button is well placed to make these remarks, as he was a teammate to 36-year-old Hamilton at McLaren: “I was alongside Lewis for three years so I know his talent and I think he’s moved on since then as well. In terms of now, he is more rounded as a driver.”
As for 24-year-old Verstappen, who Button raced against for two seasons, he said: “The only thing that surprised me a little bit with Max is he’s made more mistakes than I expected him to. He is pushing the limits like he cannot believe, especially on a track like the one in Saudi.”
Heading to Jeddah, Verstappen led Hamilton by eight points in the standings. In qualifying last Saturday he had pole position in the bag, but overdid it in the last sector and crashed; in the race he was second.
Hence, what might have been a top spot start became third on the grid, behind both Mercs and worries for Red Bull, throughout the race, that the impact did not damage something that would manifest itself during the 50 laps.
With the Jeddah dust settled, the result is the points gap in the 2021 F1 Drivers’ Championship race, between Max and Lewis, is now down to zero with one to go.
They’ve both made more mistakes than I thought they would have this year
Unnecessary pressure at an inopportune time for Red Bull; Button recalled Saturday night in Jeddah: “The first two sectors of his qualifying lap were just on fire. They really were, but then the last sector just showed a small mistake in there, creeping in.
“I thought that pretty much cost him the championship that mistake, but no, he still finished second and you go level points going to the last race. They’ve both made more mistakes than I thought they would have this year, but it just shows you when you’re under pressure.”
Something Button knows too well, as his own F1 title-winning campaign had its own snags and pitfalls as he recalled: “I felt pressure when I won the championship in 2009 and it it hurt a couple of my results.
“It shows you even the best in the world make mistakes when they’re under pressure and it’s how they’re going to cope with that going into the last race.”
Hamilton has won three in a row, Brazil from mid-grid, dominated in Qatar and survived the shenanigans to win in Saudi last time out. Three in a row and a fourth on his mind. Of course, Mercedes have delivered useful updates and kept the best of their fine stock of PUs for last.
Hamilton has not lacked firepower in the final stretch to this title, winning the last three in a row
Button continued: “I do think Lewis has the upper hand. I think he’s driving really well. To come back in the last two races he’s done a great job, but also the car Mercedes has is working really well.
“It’s the strongest time of the season for them. At the start of this season, they were on the back foot, but they have upped their game massively since Silverstone and I think they have the upper hand,” explained Button.
Red Bull’s Saudi misadventures cost them dear; Sergio Perez’s DNF and second place for Verstappen, compared to first and third for the Mercedes boys. The Bulls were trounced and head to Yas Marina chasing a gap of 28 points to their rivals.
But with Honda upping their game considerably, this has been the first year when another team has challenged the might of Mercedes in this turbo-hybrid era of the sport.
Lewis is still trying to understand Max as a driver
Button pointed out: “These are the two best teams of the decade. Two fantastic teams, two very talented drivers and I think if it is Lewis who wins it, yeah, I think it probably will be his best.
“This is the most fraught season ever and I think he’s still trying to understand Max as a driver. I still don’t think he quite understands where Max is going to put himself in a corner or this or that, which is great.
“He’s having to think on his feet a little bit more than actually understanding someone like Nico [Rosberg] or Sebastian Vettel. It’s definitely mixed up the championship and I do feel if Lewis wins this one, yes, it probably is his best championship.”
And putting his money where his mouth is Button gave his verdict: “It’s the first time I’ve actually said who I think will win it, and I think it will be Lewis.”
For Jenson’s prediction to come true, Hamilton must beat Verstappen at Yas Marina on Sunday night no matter what and, of course, a DNF or no points score for Lewis would mean Max will be Champion.