It's being hailed as one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport.
In the one corner is Lewis Hamilton, a 36-year-old British superstar with seven championships under his belt, 99 wins to his name and 175 podium appearances to his credit.
In the other is Max Verstappen, just 23 years old, a precocious talent from Holland with 17 wins and 52 podium appearances.
And drama is the order of the day.
The tension ramped up several notches when a spectacular crash at the recent Italian Grand Prix left spectators gasping. As the drivers rounded the bend at the Variante Del Rettifilo chicane on lap 26, Max’s Red Bull hit a kerb and crashed into Lewis’ Mercedes.
The rear of Max’s car landed on top of Lewis, forcing them both off the track and out of the race, which was finally won by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Lewis was saved from serious injury by the halo safety device, a titanium bar above the driver’s head. “I’m stiff and sore but I’m okay,” he said afterwards.
But he was furious. He claimed Max “knew this was going to happen” but carried on driving anyway.
“I was racing as fast as I could,” Lewis said. “I was in the lead timewise but a pitstop was slow and I lost a couple of seconds. I came out, I saw Max was coming, I left a car’s width. I was ahead going into turn one, ahead in turn two, then he’s on top of me. He just didn’t want to give way.”
Max, who’s five points ahead of Lewis, claimed he had “nowhere to go” and blamed Hamilton for not giving him enough room to negotiate the corner.
“The incident could have been avoided if I’d been left enough space,” he said. “You need two people to make that work and I feel I was squeezed out of it.”
Race stewards sided with Lewis and Max was slapped with a three-place grid penalty.
And so the thrilling rivalry between the two master drivers races on.
FEUD OF CHAMPIONS
The spark was lit at the season opener in Bahrain earlier this year when Lewis and Max went wheel-to-wheel in the so-called duel in the desert.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was thrilled and hoped it would be the start of a great rivalry.
“We have seen a tremendous battle between two very good teams and two very good drivers,” he said.
Lewis and Max were at it again at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola in April and this time the Dutch driver came out on top – but not before the two banged wheels at the first sharp bend.
Then there was the British Grand Prix in July. The two collided at 180 km/h on the first lap at Silverstone and Max had to be hospitalised. He was also upset by the celebrations that followed Lewis’ win.
“The whole reaction of the team. That’s not how you celebrate a win. Especially a win how they got it. That’s what I found really disrespectful,” he said.
Lewis was slapped with a 10-second penalty and accused by the Max camp of driving dangerously.
Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, called Lewis’ victory hollow. “You don’t stick a wheel up the inside,” he said. “That’s just dirty driving.”
Lewis says he felt “a lot of anger” after the shunt and blamed Max. “I don’t feel he needs to be aggressive as he is. I would never back down from anyone. I will not be bullied into being less aggressive. We needed the points. He left a gap, and I went for it,” he said.
It was his home Grand Prix, he added, and he and his team work hard to get the results so of course they were going to celebrate hard. “I’m not going to hide my emotions,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling.”
A BEAUTIFUL BATTLE
The Lewis/Max clash is great for the sport, experts say.
“This will go down as one of those great rivalries,” former F1 driver Nico Rosberg believes. “Lewis is one the best of all time and Max is the star of the next generation.”
It makes for great TV too, he adds. “The cool part is you don’t know who is going to win the next race or win the championship. That’s why we’re all glued to our screens every time. It’s so intense.
“This rivalry is good for the sport. It was just a matter of time before Max came through. And Lewis, a lot of people are tipping their hat to him. He’s holding his ground, showing people just how good he is.”
Max has made Lewis step up, McLaren CEO Zak Brown says. “He’s definitely on his A-game. Lewis is a very smart driver. You can see him sitting there waiting to strike and he’s not over-eager. Rivalries are great in the sport.” Despite their battle, the drivers maintain there is mutual respect between them.
“I think it’s naturally down to respect,” Lewis says. “That’s what makes great racing and great racing drivers and I think we will continue to keep it clean and keep it on the edge.
“But I don’t think either of us has a plan to get any closer than we have been.”
WHO WILL TAKE THE F1 TITLE?
Max has been leading the championship for most of the season but the race is far from over.
“Logically, it should be Lewis and Mercedes but Max and Red Bull have their best chance in years,” says Mark Hughes, Grand Prix editor for Motor Sport magazine.
Motoring journalist David Tremayne agrees: the odds are in favour of Lewis and Mercedes to win their eighth title but it could well be Max’s year.
“Crowning the first Dutch world champion would be pretty cool for the sport, would it not?” he adds.
McLaren’s Lando Norris says while they are “pretty even drivers” and Lewis has the edge on experience, he thinks Max will finally conquer the world title.
“I think he’ll win. The Mercedes seems a bit less consistent than Red Bull. Red Bull seems a bit more balanced, while the Mercedes either go fast or struggle. So I would say Max, but it will be very close.”
SOURCES: INDEPENDENT.CO.UK, PLANETF1.COM, TALKSPORT.COM, DAILYMAIL.COM/MAX, SKYSPORTS.COM, GPBLOG.COM, SKYSPORTS.COM/F1, THEGAURDIAN.COM, THESPORTSRUSH.COM, GRANDPRIX247.COM, MIRROR.CO.UK, FORMULA1.COM, TOPGEAR.COM, THERINGER.COM, TWITTER.COM/MAXVERSTAPPEN, THEGAURDIAN.COM/SPORT, YAHOO.COM, DAILYMAIL.CO.UK,