The 2021 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship has started with a closely-fought battle between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, the record-breaker, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the young lion looking for his first title in the pinnacle of motor racing.

While Hamilton took victory at Bahrain in a thrilling race, Verstappen clapped back with a solid victory in an Emilia Romagna Grand Prix with changeable weather conditions. Hamilton made a mistake that cost him a shot at the win in Imola, but recovered to finish second and scored the Fastest Lap, which gave him a one point lead over the Dutchman in the World Drivers’ Championship (44-43).

It is obviously too early to predict a year-long battle between Hamilton and Verstappen in 2021, but the start of the season has been tremendously competitive and the field seems to be quite matched. Of course, there is still a long way to go in a calendar with 23 races (we need to wait and see if all 23 races can go ahead).

Hamilton and Mercedes have dominated Formula 1 since 2014, despite great attempts from Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel in 2017 and 2018, when Mercedes and the Scuderia were arguably matched in terms of pace. With Red Bull’s and Verstappen’s start to the year, a big fight for both championships could be ahead of us, and maybe even one that goes down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Instances where the World Championship of drivers went to the last race of the calendar since 2000

In the previous 71 seasons of Formula 1, the World Drivers’ Championship was decided in the season finale 29 times, with eight of those occurring since 2000. The most recent seasons that were decided in the final race of the calendar were 2016 and 2014, when the Mercedes’ pair of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg settled championship fights at Abu Dhabi.

Before the battles between the Silver Arrows, Sebastian Vettel had sealed two of his four titles with Red Bull in the final race of two extraordinary F1 seasons in 2010 and 2012. In 2010, Abu Dhabi hosted the finale, with a record of four drivers in contention for the title.

Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), and Lewis Hamilton arrived at the race with chances of taking the title, which could’ve been Alonso’s third, Hamilton’s second, or the maiden titles for Webber and Vettel. Ultimately, Vettel won the race from Pole Position and a favorable combination of results gave him the title.

In 2012, it was Vettel against Alonso to become the ninth driver in F1 history with at least three titles. Ultimately, Vettel escaped a crash in the first lap to win his third consecutive championship with Red Bull at Interlagos, just three points over the Spanish racer.

Before hosting the showdown in 2012, Brazil was the site of three consecutive title deciders in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and each time was the season finale. In 2006, Alonso won his second title with Renault, beating Michael Schumacher in his final race with Ferrari.

Then, a three-way fight between the two McLarens (Alonso and Hamilton) and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in 2007 was famously sealed with Raikkonen’s only World Championship so far, as he won the race ahead of his teammate Felipe Massa.

In 2008, one of the most dramatic season finales in recent memory took place, as Hamilton won his first championship after overtaking Toyota’s Timo Glock on a damp track in the final corner of the final lap, seconds after Felipe Massa had crossed the line to take the win and a provisional title.

Hamilton’s overtake on Glock meant he scored the point he needed to beat Massa, and won the championship by one point.

The first time a WDC was sealed in the season finale since 2000 came in 2003, when Michael Schumacher won a record-breaking sixth Formula 1 championship with eighth place at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix, while Kimi Raikkonen could not deliver a championship for McLaren after a consistent campaign with the Woking team.

In that championship, Schumacher ultimately defeated Raikkonen by only two points after 16 races.

Will we see the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship be decided in the final race? It could go either way, but the season has definitely provided lots of excitement in only two rounds so far.

The opinions expressed are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of, staff or partners.

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