F1 – Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen: Jenson Button blown away by Hollywood-esque title race

Lewis Hamilton (left) and Max Verstappen (right) are neck and neck in a thrilling F1 season
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‘I had a meeting with a a guy that’s in the movie industry yesterday and he’s like “this is insane”,’ Jenson Button says, ‘you just couldn’t write a movie like this.’ 

Button, champion of the world back in 2009, is in his Los Angeles family home as he fields questions on one of the most breathtaking Formula One seasons of all time. 

Max Verstappen, leader by virtue of his nine race wins, heads to Abu Dhabi level on points with his bitter rival Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton (left) and Max Verstappen (right) are neck and neck in a thrilling F1 season

There have been ferocious crashes, such as this one which occurred at Monza in September

There have been ferocious crashes, such as this one which occurred at Monza in September

Tensions escalated when Hamilton (left) sent Verstappen into the barriers at Silverstone

Tensions escalated when Hamilton (left) sent Verstappen into the barriers at Silverstone

Verstappen is chasing his first championship while Hamilton is targeting his eighth, which would take him past Michael Schumacher and cement him as the most successful driver of all-time. 

History beckons at Yas Marina come the chequered flag on Sunday. 

‘This is an insane season. I mean you couldn’t script it?’ Button says. 

‘I mean, 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”.’  

Button is not too far off the mark, either. This has been a season full of thrills, full of rows – on and off the track – full of cheap shots in the press, full of champagne celebrations and plainly, full of sheer drama. 

Week to week it has been must-see TV. Button, who is now in the paddock with Sky Sports, rather than as a driver, is part of a team that delivered the highest-viewed F1 race in the broadcaster’s history, with more than 2.6million eyeballs at its peak. 

Everyone is having their say: Bernie Ecclestone called out ‘bullying’ tactics aimed at Verstappen, Martin Brundle is wary of the Red Bull driver ruining his ‘legacy’ and even former Chelsea defender Ruud Gullit got involved as he likened this final round title tussle to an English FA Cup tie. 

Having collided on track in a frantic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah just last week – adding to crashes at Silverstone and Monza – questions have been raised about a deliberate wipe-out from either side to seal glory on Sunday.

Their fractious relationship has been box-office for the sport and it all comes down to the finale

Their fractious relationship has been box-office for the sport and it all comes down to the finale

Hamilton ran into his rival after Verstappen was ordered to give the lead back in Saudi Arabia

Hamilton ran into his rival after Verstappen was ordered to give the lead back in Saudi Arabia

It was what defined the rivalry of the greats Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Their famous collisions at Suzuka in the penultimate races of 1989 and 1990 seasons determined the title – one to Prost (1989) and one to Senna (1990). Both have left marks in the years that have followed. 

So, where does Verstappen and Hamilton’s fractious rivalry fall in the all-time list and would either side hesitate to follow Prost or Senna’s cynicism on track?  

‘It’s definitely up there,’ Button adds. ‘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 knows Hamilton particularly well having been alongside him as his team-mate for three years at McLaren a decade ago.

Watching Verstappen has been an experience for Button as it has been for the rest of us; an aggressive driver that has matured to the cusp of a championship. 

Hamilton has been tipped by Jenson Button to win and secure a record eighth world title

Hamilton has been tipped by Jenson Button to win and secure a record eighth world title

The 2009 champion has played down the likelihood of a Verstappen-Hamilton collision to rival the great Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at Suzuka in the late 1980s and early 1990s

The 2009 champion has played down the likelihood of a Verstappen-Hamilton collision to rival the great Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at Suzuka in the late 1980s and early 1990s

MAX VERSTAPPEN’S 2021 SEASON RESULTS

BAHRAIN: 2nd

EMILIA-ROMAGNA: 1st

PORTUGAL: 2nd

SPAIN: 2nd

MONACO: 1st

AZERBAIJAN: DNF

FRANCE: 1st

STYRIA: 1st

AUSTRIA: 1st

GREAT BRITAIN: DNF

HUNGARY: 9th

BELGIUM: 1st

HOLLAND: 1st

ITALY: DNF

RUSSIA: 2nd

TURKEY: 2nd

UNITED STATES: 1st

MEXICO: 1st

BRAZIL: 2nd

QATAR: 2nd

SAUDI ARABIA: 2nd 

LEWIS HAMILTON’S 2021 SEASON RESULTS 

BAHRAIN: 1st

EMILIA-ROMAGNA: 2nd

PORTUGAL: 1st

SPAIN: 1st

MONACO: 7th

AZERBAIJAN: 15th

FRANCE: 2nd

STYRIA: 2nd

AUSTRIA: 4th

GREAT BRITAIN: 1st

HUNGARY: 2nd

BELGIUM: 3rd

HOLLAND: 2nd

ITALY: DNF

RUSSIA: 1st

TURKEY: 5th

UNITED STATES: 2nd

MEXICO: 2nd

BRAZIL: 1st

QATAR: 1st

SAUDI ARABIA: 1st

‘I was alongside Lewis for three years so I I know his talent and I think he’s moved on since then as well,’ Button says. 

‘In terms of now he is more rounded as a driver.

‘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. 

‘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 and 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. 

‘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.’ 

Verstappen has retirements at Baku, Silverstone and Monza to his name while it is only Monza, where Hamilton saw the Red Bull go over the top of his car, narrowly missing his head, that the Brit has endured a DNF. 

Button says this 2021 season has been so dramatic, even Hollywood couldn't have done better

Button says this 2021 season has been so dramatic, even Hollywood couldn’t have done better

Hamilton has won the last three races and has wrestled back control in the drivers' title race

Hamilton has won the last three races and has wrestled back control in the drivers’ title race

For a while on this Zoom call Button is able to weave around the question of who will come out on top, like Hamilton or Verstappen cutting through the field.

Eventually, he buckles. He’s made his prediction – and he’s going with the greatest to ever do it. 

‘I do think Lewis has the upper hand. I think he’s driving really well,’ he says. 

‘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. 

‘It’s the first time I’ve actually said who I think will win and I think it will be Lewis.’

And if it is Hamilton, if Button has taken a look into Formula One’s crystal ball, just how would it compare?

Hamilton himself has reckoned it would be his greatest ever, not just because he would surpass Schumacher’s tally of seven but because this season has been so fraught, so tough, at one stage it looked to be faint hope and now he’s on the cusp of history.

Hamilton has become 'more rounded' as a driver, feels Button, and his experience will tell

Hamilton has become ‘more rounded’ as a driver, feels Button, and his experience will tell

Button (left) spent three years as Hamilton's (right) team-mate while driving for McLaren

Button (left) spent three years as Hamilton’s (right) team-mate while driving for McLaren

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,’ Button continued.

‘This is the most fraught season ever and I think he’s still trying to understand Max as 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. 

‘It makes it so 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.’

Champagne in both garages remains on ice and the party poppers will stay stored away until the time comes.

For there are 58 laps left of this Hollywood epic and it is anyone’s guess to know how this blockbuster ends. 

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