MAX VERSTAPPEN has been labelled “a gladiator” by Red Bull boss Christian Horner who says it is now his driver’s time to rule the F1 Empire.
Verstappen, 24, clashed with Lewis Hamilton in the sensational Saudi Arabian GP on Sunday to set up a one-race winner-takes-all finale in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
After nine months of wheel-to-wheel racing and 22 races across the globe, both drivers are level on points going into the last race of the season.
Hamilton’s victory in Jeddah came after Verstappen was penalised by the stewards – once for cutting a corner and another time for brake-testing Hamilton, as the two made contact for the third time this season.
With both drivers at war, along with their respective teams, it is all poised to be a duel to the end.
Horner said: “Max has fought like a gladiator [last] weekend and given it everything, so we now have one chance.
“We have a week to regroup and now it goes down to the wire at Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a straight-out fight as it has been for the entire year. For the fans it is fantastic, it keeps the championship dream alive and we have one shot and it’s time to take it.”
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Red Bull advisor, Helmut Marko also said the team had no reason to tell Verstappen to change his driving style.
He added: “I don’t think there is any reason why he should cool down. It’s the match between Mercedes and Red Bull, and the match between Max and [Lewis].”
Verstappen has nine wins this season while Hamilton has eight. F1’s rules mean that should both drivers fail to finish, Verstappen would be crowned champion due to having more victories.
It is the first time the championship has been tied going into the final race of the season since 1974.
Back then, Emerson Fittipaldi won the title after rival Clay Regazzoni had mechanical problems.
However, F1 has a rich history of drivers acting at all costs to make sure they secure the title.
Damon Hill was the victim of one such incident in 1994 when he was taken out in the final race of the season by Michael Schumacher, who as a result won the title.
And then, and perhaps a most relevant example, in 1997 when Schumacher was disqualified from the whole season after crashing into Jacques Villeneuve.
Schumacher, who was leading the championship by a single point at the race in Jerez in Spain, collided with the Canadian for the lead.
The German was subsequently stripped of all his points for the season for what was seen as an attempt to deliberately take out his title rival.
Villeneuve, who finished third in the race, was champion and Hill says that F1’s governing body should remind both drivers to keep it clean.
He said: “There is a precedent that was set in the championship in 1997 where Schumacher’s points were taken away from him.
“So if we do have a (collision) situation, I think the FIA should make the teams and drivers know in advance what they are likely to do. Will they take points away? What’s the penalty?
“There are some people who drive with absolutely no compromises whatsoever. And I think Max is one of those people.
“He’s very skillful and he’s brilliant and it’s exciting to watch. I think Lewis, who has to deal with that, is now very cautious – he’s not intimidated but he’s very wary of Max and probably rightly so.
“Max is pushing everything to the limit,” said Hill. “It’s for the world title, and both guys want it massively and there’s always going to be tears.”
Merc boss Toto Wolff also urged for calmness in the final race after the explosive race in Jeddah and subsequent fall out.
He said: “I would hope that this race has enough repercussions that everybody is going to learn from it and adapt for the final race.
“I think that similar driving, if it were to be deemed by the stewards as being over the line, would also be penalised in Abu Dhabi.
“And that could end up in a messy situation for everybody and I don’t think the championship has deserved a result that was influenced by a collision.”