Lewis Hamilton accuses Max Verstappen of making deliberate mistake in Abu Dhabi

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen analysed by Coulthard

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Lewis Hamilton has suggested that Max Verstappen deliberately locked up during Saturday’s qualifying session at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in order to change his strategy and start Sunday’s decisive race on soft tyres. The two drivers are currently level on points at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings ahead of this weekend’s season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit.

One of them will finally emerge as this year’s champion when the chequered flag drops at the end of the 58-lap contest.

Hamilton set the pace in FP2 and FP3 ahead of qualifying on Saturday but was unable to prevent Verstappen from claiming pole position with an incredible lap in Q3.

The Dutchman was given an almighty tow by his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez and backed out of his final run after it became apparent that he would start the race from the very front of the grid.

He initially looked to have matched Hamilton’s strategy for Sunday’s race when he emerged from the pit lane sporting a set of medium tyres at the beginning of Q2.

The 10 drivers who reach Q3 must start the race with the tyres used to set their fastest time in Q2, suggesting that Verstappen was planning on executing a one-stop strategy.

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However, he went on to lock up after setting his first flying lap of the session, flat-spotting his tyres in the process.

Verstappen returned to the track after fitting a fresh set of softs and improved on his previous lap time to ensure that he will start the race on the fastest available compound.

When quizzed on the incident after the end of qualifying, Hamilton pondered whether his Red Bull rival’s mistake may have been a deliberate ploy to change his plan at the last minute ahead of Sunday’s historic showdown.

“[It’s] interesting that they locked up at Turn One and all that kind of stuff,” the seven-time world champion told RacingNews365.

“I’m a conspiracist, no one locks up at Turn One, and if you do, it’s not a big lock-up. They obviously deliberately chose to go onto the softs, in my opinion.

“I might be wrong, but I hope what we’re on is the right one.”

Meanwhile, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted that he considered both tyre options for Verstappen before Saturday’s qualifying session, insisting that he is not worried about the Dutchman starting on the softs.

“To be honest with you, it [the tyre decision] was very much 50/50,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.

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“When we discussed it this morning, it was 50/50. We’re not overly upset starting on the softs. The medium is a bit more robust.

“But the deg in the race, it’s going to be very interesting to see how that plays out. But track position also, I think, regarding degradation, is crucial.

“It’s important that we convert it now. You’re starting on the clean side, you’re on the better tyre.

“We’ve just got to focus on our race, focus on ourselves and not worry about what they’re [Mercedes] doing, that’s what we did today.”

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