Despite crashing into the back of Verstappen at one stage - in one of several clashes between the pair - Hamilton was still able to win a chaotic and controversial first race in Jeddah to set up a winner-takes-all title showdown in Abu Dhabi this weekend.  

But any remaining respect between the two championship contenders appears to have been extinguished for good following one of the most craziest and dramatic grands prix ever witnessed in F1. 

Following crashes at Silverstone and Monza, and further controversy in Brazil, Sunday’s race marked the latest collision between the championship contenders. 

The most contentious flashpoint occurred on lap 37 as Hamilton struck the rear of Verstappen’s car in an apparent miscommunication after the Red Bull driver was instructed to cede position having twice ran Hamilton wide at Turn 1 to stay ahead. 

Verstappen picked up a five-second time penalty for gaining an unfair lasting advantage when he forced Hamilton off-track, before he was issued with a further 10-second time penalty after the race for “erratic” braking that led to the full-blown contact. 

The penalties ultimately had no bearing on the final result as Verstappen kept his second-place finish. 

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During the race, Hamilton was heard calling Verstappen a “crazy guy” over team radio and he later hit out at the Dutchman for being “over the limit” with some of his moves. 

Hamilton also took aim at the enforcement of F1’s racing rules and suggested there is one driver who does not seem to understand that overtaking off the track is not allowed, in what was a thinly-veiled dig at Verstappen.

“I don’t think I’ve changed the way that I race,” Hamilton said. 

"I think we’re seeing multiple incidents this year where even with Brazil we’re supposed to do our racing on track in between the white lines and the rules haven’t been clear from the stewards, that those things have been allowed, so that’s continued.

"From my understanding, I know that I can’t overtake someone and go off track and then keep the position but I think that’s well known between all us drivers but it doesn’t apply to one of us, I guess.”

Hamilton, who has often backed out in wheel-to-wheel combat against Verstappen this year, insisted he is doing his best to avoid accidents. 

"It was clear that others around us were willing to take it to all sorts of levels in order to overtake,” he added. “So I just tried to keep it on the track and stay out of trouble, which meant avoiding incidents if I could.”

Verstappen rejected Hamilton’s accusations and felt he had been unfairly treated by F1’s stewards. 

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“I find it interesting that I am the one who gets a penalty when both of us run outside of the white lines,” he said.

“In Brazil it was fine and now suddenly I get a penalty for it. Well, you could clearly see both didn’t make the corner.”

Verstappen had already voiced his frustration at the application of penalties directly after the race and was still clearly annoyed about the situation in the press conference. 

“I think lately we’re talking more about white lines and penalties than actually proper Formula 1 racing, and that’s, I think, a little bit of a shame,” he added. 

How will this ultimate showdown end? 

The result of it all is that for the first time since 1974, F1 finds itself with the mouth-watering prospect of a title finale in which both drivers go into the race level on points. 

With everything on the line, the battle - which had already spilled over onto off-track antics and rows between the Mercedes and Red Bull camps - has seemingly turned into all-out war. But how will it end? 

Verstappen goes into the finale as the world championship leader by virtue of having nine wins compared to Hamilton’s eight. For Hamilton to seal a record-breaking eight world title, he must beat Verstappen on track. 

The permutations mean Verstappen can afford a race-ending collision with Hamilton, knowing that such a scenario would see him take a maiden world title.

F1 is no stranger to controversial title-deciding crashes; think Senna and Prost in 1989 and 1990, or Schumacher and Hill in 1994 and Schumacher and Villeneuve in 1997. 

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Ever-increasing tensions between Verstappen and Hamilton have raised the prospect of the title being decided in contentious circumstances. 

And that is something Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is fearful of. 

“I would hope that [this] race has enough repercussions that everybody is going to learn from it and adapt for the final race in Abu Dhabi,” he said. 

“I think that similar driving, if it were to be deemed by the stewards as being over the line, it would then probably also be penalised in Abu Dhabi and it could well end in a messy situation for everybody. 

“And I don’t think that the championship has deserved a result which was influenced by a collision. So in that case I very much trust in the self-regulating system.”

Asked if Red Bull cares how Verstappen wins, team principal Christian Horner replied: “Yes of course we do. We want to win it on the track, not in the stewards' room, not in a gravel trap. It has been a tough fight, all the way through the year. 

“There has been some fantastic racing between these two drivers and I hope it is a fair and clean race in Abu Dhabi.”

Regardless of who is crowned world champion, the 2021 season will go down in folklore as being one of the greatest of all time, while the rivalry between Verstappen and Hamilton will be talked about for decades to come.

This time next week we will know how an extraordinary and pulsating final chapter of this spellbinding story ends.