Lewis Hamilton has strategic edge over Max Verstappen despite missing pole
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Lewis Hamilton’s tyre choices over the weekend to date ensure that he holds a slight strategic edge over title rival Max Verstappen in Sunday’s title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Verstappen starts from pole position but does so on soft tyres, while Hamilton will set off with a set of medium compound rubber.
Lewis Hamilton has strategic edge over Max Verstappen
For Verstappen, the start and first few laps of the race will be the key to cashing in on his pole position and winning a maiden World Driver’s Championship.
Hamilton’s mediums will be far better suited to following the Red Bull and Verstappen needs to guard against allowing his rival to get in front of him early on.
Those tyres also give Hamilton strategic flexibility as he would be able to pit as early as the 15th lap or as late as the 27th lap.
Both drivers are expected to deploy a one-stop strategy meaning that the initial phase of the race will play a big part in deciding the championship.
Verstappen will have to try and make his tyres last until at least the 15th lap of the race but the Red Bull team will be watching Mercedes closely as the defending champion has two options to get past his rival.
Hamilton might look to go for his own undercut by pitting early, which could allow him to get back up to speed to pounce when the Red Bull is boxed. The seven-time world champion can otherwise play the waiting game, having proven adept at tyre management.
Two-stop an option
Verstappen could try a two-stop strategy, however, he would need clear air and have the race pace to get a full pit stop clear of the chasing pack before making a switch to hard tyres. From there, a final stint for mediums is possible if the rest of the field falls further back from the pace being set at the front, but the great risk is the timing of the first pit stop with a danger of being released into traffic and losing significant time.
A first corner incident could be on the cards given how both drivers have gone for it this season and also how vital the start could be for the outcome.
Both teams will also hope for great starts for their number two drivers, with Sergio Perez starting directly behind Hamilton in fourth and Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas taking up his place on the grid right behind the Mexican in sixth.