Lewis Hamilton wins third straight to push title fight with Max Verstappen to F1 finale

Hamilton Verstappen title fight
Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The increasingly tense Formula One title fight between defending champion Lewis Hamilton and his formidable challenger, Max Verstappen, will head to the last race of the season with the fierce rivals level on points.

Next weekend’s Abu Dhabi showdown will see Hamilton crowned for a record eighth time — or Verstappen win his first title.

Hamilton’s nail-biting win Sunday at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was his third straight to pull him level with Verstappen on 369.5 points. The British veteran is within touching distance of title No. 8 to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher and stand alone among F1 greats.

Verstappen still leads by a hair’s breadth, only because he has more wins: 9-8.

“Of course it’s exciting,” said Verstappen, who won last year in Abu Dhabi. “We’re starting again like we started the season.”

Hamilton’s win in the heat and humidity of Jeddah saw him pass Verstappen with six laps remaining of a chaotic race, as the pair tangled again this season following high-octane crashes at the British GP and the Italian GP.

“It was clear that others around were willing to take it to all sorts of levels to overtake,” Hamilton said after the race, with Verstappen sat right next to him. “We’ve seen multiple incidents this year.”

Hamilton is in no mood to back down with the finish in sight, but Verstappen has drawn out the street fighter in him.

The race on the street circuit under the lights on the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) coastal resort area in Jeddah will go down as one of the more memorable events of the season — if not the last several years. It saw three standing starts, a pair of restarts, multiple safety cars, and an intense back-and-forth between the title contenders including a minor late collision.

Red Bull was allowed to negotiate a penalty for Verstappen, Mercedes head Toto Wolff slammed his headset in rage, and Hamilton drove into the back of his title rival before ultimately passing Verstappen for the win.

Verstappen was dejected and incredulous after finishing second.

“What happened today is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m just trying to race. This sport is more about penalties than racing. So for me this is not Formula One but at least the fans enjoyed it.”

Verstappen is exasperated at some decisions that stewards have made this season

“Not just this race (but) in general, lately, (it’s) the trend in F1,” said Verstappen, whose father Jos was Schumacher’s teammate. “That’s not how I grew up watching Formula One.”

Hamilton, who won from the pole after Verstappen crashed on the last lap of qualifying Saturday. needed a few moments to recover after one of the most draining of his record-extending 103 career wins in the heat and humidity of the Middle East.

He sat on a chair next to his physical trainer, with his face buried into a towel as he waited for the podium ceremony.

“That was incredibly tough,” said Hamilton, who will be 37 next season. “I tried to be as sensible and as tough as I could be.”

Verstappen was penalized 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 differed on what happened, and Verstappen was summoned before the stewards postrace.

“I didn’t understand why all of a sudden he hit the brakes quite heavily then I moved into the back of him,” said Hamilton, who wasn’t told by Mercedes that Verstappen was going to let him by for the lead. “All of a sudden (Verstappen) slowed at a really rapid pace. I feel really grateful that I didn’t take us both out.”

Stewards ruled against Verstappen and gave him an additional 10-second time penalty. It did not change the standings as he had enough of a gap over third-place Valtteri Bottas.

“The sudden braking by the driver of car 33 (Verstappen) was determined by the Stewards to be erratic and hence the predominant cause of the collision,” the stewards’ decision read.

During the race, Hamilton used an expletive in describing Verstappen as “crazy” and called his driving “dangerous.”

“I definitely felt there were scenarios where that was the case,” Hamilton said after. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to avoid collision.”

Verstappen insisted it was Hamilton’s fault.

“I slowed down, I wanted to let him by,” he said. “He didn’t want to overtake and then we touched.”

Wolff has overseen seven straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships and is closing in on No. 8. Bottas pushed Mercedes closer by overtaking Esteban Ocon of Alpine near the line.

Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez were among five who failed to finish because of the messy restarts and the blind turns on the second-longest circuit on the calendar. It spans 6.2 kilometers (3.8 miles) with 27 corners and was only completed days ahead of the F1 debut in the country.

Once he passed Verstappen, Hamilton controlled the finish and stayed competitive in his postrace news conference.

When asked about rules for going too wide off track, Hamilton said “all the drivers understand it except one of us here,” clearly aiming that comment at Verstappen.

The Dutchman bit back.

“I find it interesting that I’m the one who gets a penalty when both of us run outside the white line,” Verstappen said. “We’re talking more about white lines and penalties than Formula One racing and that’s a bit of a shame.”

Next Sunday night, the time for talking will be over and one of them will be celebrating.

“It’s a straight-out fight as it has been for the entire year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “We have one shot and it’s time to take it.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.