Hamilton leads Verstappen in final Abu Dhabi GP practice | Sports News

By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Editor

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton set the pace in final practice ahead of Saturday’s qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with rival Max Verstappen just behind him for Red Bull.

Hamilton and Verstappen are tied ahead of Sunday’s decisive season title final. It is the first time since 1974 that the contenders for the championship have embarked on the last race of the season.

Hamilton is looking for an eighth Formula 1 championship record to break his tie with Michael Schumacher for most in series history. Verstappen has never won a championship at a higher level in karting and is said to be the first Dutch winner in F1.

Hamilton set the fastest time of the weekend on Saturday in the third and final practice session with a lap of 1 minute 23.274 seconds around the Yas Marina circuit. Verstappen, after switching to soft tires, shot in 0.214 seconds in his Red Bull.

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Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas finished third, followed by Verstappen teammate Sergio Perez. McLaren’s Lando Norris rounded out the top five.

Movie star Gerard Butler was in the paddock on Saturday as the buzz continues to mount ahead of the championship’s dramatic conclusion. Hamilton won three consecutive races to erase the 19-point lead Verstappen held after his November 7 victory in Mexico City.

Verstappen has nine wins this year – one less than the 10 wins he had accumulated in his previous six seasons in F1. Hamilton has won just eight times, his lowest number of podium finishes since his nine 2017 league wins.

This is the smallest number of victories in a season for the British driver since 2013, when Hamilton had won only once.

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