LEWIS HAMILTON’S showdown with Max Verstappen will take place on a new circuit which could prove dangerous.
The reigning world champion is just eight points behind Red Bull’s Verstappen ahead of Sunday's inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and topped both practice sessions.
A win for Hamilton, plus setting the fastest lap to earn a bonus point, and a second-place finish for the Dutchman would see them tied going into the final race in Abu Dhabi.
But first, Hamilton has to conquer the terrifying high-speed street circuit here in Jeddah that has been constructed in just a few months.
There were no test events for this race — where building work is still going on — despite average speeds of 155mph, top speeds of over 200mph and thick concrete barriers all around.
Charles Leclerc had a lucky escape when his Ferrari ploughed into the barriers at 160mph at Turn 22 — the one earmarked as the most treacherous.
He climbed from the wreckage unscathed. But his car was a write-off and will again raise safety concerns about this hastily constructed track.
Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski had earlier warned: “Fernando Alonso said it was a pretty demanding circuit.
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“Lots of blind corners and high speed between walls, so lots of very high attention at all times to make sure you don’t make a mistake.
“A mistake (…) you are going to pay very severely. If you crash, you could damage the car badly or even hurt yourself.”
Sky’s F1 pundit Martin Brundle added: “This place will bite. In a way this is brilliant towards the end of the season.
“But if I was Red Bull and Mercedes I would be thinking, ‘I don’t need the extra jeopardy of this place right now’.
“These guys live off data. They thrive on it and they hate uncertainty. They want to turn up here, having done 1,000 laps on the sim, with the right set-up and the right strategy.
“But we want all the jeopardy and the surprise and I think that is what has made it such a great year — we’ve had that jeopardy this season.”
Verstappen has won nine times this season, while Hamilton has seven victories.
At one point the Red Bull man had a 32-point lead in the championship. But Hamilton has won the last two races and his confidence is sky high, so Brundle says the outcome of the championship is still too difficult to predict.
He added: “A good football analogy is you’d rather have the points than the games in hand.
“If Lewis carries on at that rate of knots and if Valtteri Bottas can get involved and have one of his on-form days, then who knows?
“One mishap around here from Lewis and Max is the world champion. It is going to end somehow, isn’t it?
“We’ve seen some good wheel-to-wheel action. We’ve seen some shooting from the hip and shooting from the lip from the team bosses.
“We’ve had it all. The high drama, the massive accidents, Max parked on Lewis’ head at Monza.
“It’s had everything — the brilliant moments, the scary moments — but it has to end somewhere.”
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