One of the most exhilarating title battles in Formula One history will be settled in Abu Dhabi next week after Lewis Hamilton claimed victory in an eventful and fiercely contested Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday to move level on points with Max Verstappen.
The race on the street circuit under the lights in Jeddah featured three standing starts, a pair of restarts, multiple safety cars, and an intense back-and-forth between the title contenders.
Red Bull were allowed to negotiate a penalty for Verstappen, Mercedes principal Toto Wolff slammed his headset in rage, and Hamilton drove into the back of his title rival before ultimately passing Verstappen for the win with six laps remaining.
“Lewis, that has got to be the craziest race I can remember,” Hamilton’s engineer radioed after he crossed the finish line.
“Great job, guys, great job!” Hamilton replied. “That’s more like it, let’s keep pushing!”
A dejected Verstappen, who has seen his hold on the title race evaporate over the last three races, was dejected. “It is what it is,” the Dutchman said. “I tried, at least.”
Verstappen was penalised for going off course on the second restart, was later told to yield position to Hamilton, but Hamilton ran into the back of his Red Bull to damage the front wing on his Mercedes. The two then went back and forth over the closing sequence.
However, the drama and controversy continued when they collided late in the race. Hamilton said he had been brake-tested and Verstappen was penalised by the stewards, while Mercedes chief Wolff was visibly enraged.
Once the seven-time world champion passed Verstappen for good, Hamilton controlled the finish and won for the third consecutive race. The British driver has eight wins this season and has now pulled level with Verstappen in the standings.
Given all that occurred throughout the race and the ramifications for the title race, Hamilton's brake-testing accusations dominated the debate in the aftermath.
"I don't understand why [Verstappen] hit the brakes quite heavily so I ran into the back of him," Hamilton said. "It was a bit confusing."
In response, Verstappen said: "I slowed down, I wanted to let him by, I was on the right but he didn't want to overtake and we touched. I don't really understand what happened there."
Focusing on the race and his thoughts on his first race on the Jeddah Corniche Street Circuit, Hamilton said: "I've been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough. I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean.
"It has been an amazing event, I felt very welcome here and people have been lovely here. The track is phenomenal, very difficult physically and mentally but you would not want it any other way."
Verstappen was clearly heated when discussing the race from his car but had calmed down once he left the track and insisted he is only focused on clinching the championship next Sunday in the season finale at the Etihad Airways Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on the Yas Marina Circuit.
"It was quite eventful," the Dutchman said. "A lot of things happened, which I don't fully agree with, but it is what it is.
"I tried to give it my all, I don't think the tyres were lasting. I was lacking a bit of rubber at the end, nevertheless, still second.
"It will be decided [in Abu Dhabi]. Hopefully we have a good weekend."
Hamilton, the four-time defending F1 champion, is seeking an eighth title to break the all-time record he shares with Michael Schumacher. The 24-year-old Verstappen is out to capture his first championship and had dominated the season for Red Bull until this late three-race charge by Mercedes and Hamilton.