Hamilton looks to extend F1 race as Verstappen eyes title

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton will bid to keep alive his hopes of a historic eighth Formula One world title at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, powered by the new engine that aided his remarkable triumph in Brazil.

After consecutive victories in Sao Paulo and Qatar, Mercedes’ defending champion seeks to complete a hat-trick, or see championship leader Max Verstappen suffer a setback, on the streets of the high-speed Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

If he succeeds and trims the Red Bull driver’s eight-point advantage to just one, or even zero, in Sunday’s race, the title will be decided by a final winner-takes-all showdown in Abu Dhabi on December 12.

But Hamilton knows it is a perilous challenge and that he cannot afford to take any risks. Verstappen will take the title on Sunday if he wins and Hamilton finishes outside the top six.

“You just have to be very careful – more cautious than ever before,” said Hamilton, stressing the importance of avoiding an accident.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in action during the Qatar Grand Prix. PHOTO: AP

“You have to be ready to do whatever you can to avoid a collision even if it means leaving the track,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor Und Sport. “After all, you want to finish the race. If you are too stubborn and defend your position, you will crash.”

The 36-year-old Briton and Verstappen have collided twice already this year, at Silverstone and Monza, and had several near-misses in a roller-coaster season filled with incidents and arguments.

“In Brazil, I made sure to avoid the collision,” added Hamilton, referring to his off-track excursion when forced wide by a lunging Verstappen.

“I was always very decent in situations like this, I would say. Of course, you don’t always get it done perfectly.

And he’s not my first opponent to act like this. Now that I’m a little older, I take a closer look at the characters of the other drivers and their personal backgrounds.

The challenging track, theoretically, appears likely to favour Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Red Bull team chief Christian Horner admitted the 27-corner circuit is both unique and unknown.

“The track looks insane from what I’ve seen,” he said. “It is going to be a massive challenge and I’m sure there will be plenty of excitement and drama.”