Formula One: Hamilton leads Verstappen in final practice of Abu Dhabi GP

AP , Saturday 11 Dec 2021

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes paced the final practice ahead of Saturday qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with rival Max Verstappen right behind him for Red Bull.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands in action during practice for the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (AP)

Hamilton and Verstappen are tied ahead of Sunday's title-deciding season finale. It's the first time since 1974 the championship contenders have been even going into the final race of the season.

Hamilton is seeking a record eighth Formula One championship to break his tie with Michael Schumacher for most in series history. Verstappen has never won a championship at a level higher than karting and would be the first Dutch winner in F1.

Hamilton on Saturday set the fastest time of the weekend in the third and final practice session with a lap of 1 minute, 23.274 seconds around Yas Marina Circuit. Verstappen, after switching to soft tires, pulled within .214-seconds in his Red Bull.

Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes was third fastest, followed by Verstappen teammate Sergio Perez. Lando Norris of McLaren rounded out the top five.

Film star Gerard Butler was in the paddock on Saturday as the buzz continues to build ahead of the dramatic championship conclusion. Hamilton has won three consecutive races to wipe out the 19-point lead Verstappen held after his Nov. 7 victory in Mexico City.

Verstappen has nine victories this year — one shy of the 10 wins he'd combined to earn in his six previous seasons in F1. Hamilton has won just eight times, his fewest trips to the top of the podium since his nine-win 2017 championship year.

This is the fewest victories in a season for the British driver since 2013, when Hamilton won just once.

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