For 21 races on the 2021 calendar, Jenson Button has evaded giving a prediction in the title race, unsure of a championship, which has ebbed and flowed from the opening race in Bahrain to the final chequered a few hundred miles away in Abu Dhabi.
ut at race 22, the 2009 world champion finally has clarity on who will come out on top, despite former teammate Lewis Hamilton being equal on points with Max Verstappen going into the season finale.
“I actually think this is the first time I’ve been able to pick a championship winner to win this season and I think it’s Lewis,” he said. “Just looking at his performances the last few races and that of Mercedes.
“I think the car is working well. I still think they have the edge so Lewis and Mercedes should have the advantage.”
Last season, Hamilton marched to his record-equalling seventh world title with the greatest ease of his career, 124 points clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Such was his dominance, it was enough for Button to predict that Hamilton was already a shoo-in for title No8, a prediction of which he is happy to have proved wrong.
For arguably only the third time of Hamilton’s career, he has a close fight on his hands. His first title was decided by the final corner of the 2008 season while in 2016 he missed out to teammate Nico Rosberg at the same Yas Marina track that will decide this championship.
Should he come out on top this time around, Button is confident it will exceed anything his fellow countryman has achieved in his career.
“It would be his greatest championship as he’s actually had a real fight on his hands,” he said. “He obviously did that back in 2008 but this one is pretty special because he’s going up against Max.
“They are two of the best guys in Formula 1 but also two of the best to ever drive a racing car. With how aggressive the championship has been throughout the season, it’ll mean a lot to whoever comes out on top.”
As the pressure has mounted on both drivers and their respective team bosses, there is an inevitable fractiousness that has spilled over, arguably reaching its peak at the last race in Saudi Arabia when race director Michael Masi appeared in constant dialogue with both Mercedes and Red Bull throughout a tumultuous grand prix.
It ended with Verstappen being handed a 10-second penalty for brake checking his title rival, who drove into the back of him at a time when Verstappen was meant to be conceding the lead to him having gained it unfairly for a second time in the race.
It led to suggestions from some that the racing on track could turn ugly in Abu Dhabi, a DNF for both drivers equating to an inaugural title for Verstappen by virtue of his nine grand prix victories to Hamilton’s eight.
But Button is adamant things will be decided fairly on track come Sunday’s race. He said: “I don’t think Max is that kind of driver at all. He’ll fight hard on the track, he’ll take it to the limit and sometimes he’ll be over the limit but I don’t think he’s a dirty driver, I really don’t.
“I’m happy that these two guys will go into the last race for what will be a proper clean fight, and I’m really excited about who comes out on top.”
The season to date has been littered with controversies from Verstappen ending up in hospital after a high-speed shunt at the British Grand Prix, to the Dutchman ending parked up on Hamilton’s Mercedes at the Italian Grand Prix.
And it is the race in Silverstone that Button believes has proved pivotal to his ex-McLaren teammate’s title hopes.
“Max learns very quickly and he understands now that Lewis has been a lot more aggressive since Silverstone,” he said. “Lewis simply had to change his driving style.
“He was doing the right thing, what you need to win a championship, looking after the car and not crashing it in the race but, at some point, he had to take it to Max and he did.”
© Evening Standard