Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone believes Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are ‘bullying’ Red Bull star Max Verstappen as they battle for the world championship.
The 2021 F1 season has been one of the greatest years in the sport’s history thanks to the titanic world title race between Mercedes’ Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen.
The two men have won 17 races between them this season, with the Dutchman claiming nine victories to Hamilton’s eight and they head into the finale of the year level on points.
Their rivalry has been one for the ages, with the two colliding at Silverstone and Monza before last weekend’s dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where drama and controversy reigned.
Sunday's crazy race saw two red flags, multiple virtual safety car interventions and five drivers crash out before Hamilton won his eighth race of the season.
The Brit took the chequered flag to tie the drivers' standings ahead of next weekend's finale in Abu Dhabi, while Verstappen finished second despite being dealt two time penalties for a total of 15 seconds.
The pair collided on lap 37 when Verstappen slowed down to let Hamilton past after the Dutchman had been ordered to return the place to the seven-time world champion.
The Mercedes man was not informed of the events, and instead rammed into the back of the Red Bull.
Hamilton insisted his rival ‘brake-tested’ him while Verstappen declared he was simply trying to let the Brit pass.
With controversies aplenty, Ecclestone believes Hamilton and Mercedes are playing games with Verstappen.
“Max is a kid compared to Lewis and the worst thing is Lewis has a massive publicity campaign working for him,” he said. “They have been pushing down all the time on Max and then the race directors have been looking in because Toto goes to the race director.
“Max has more than a race to confront as he has them too on his back because they are bullying him and not playing fair. It is psychological game playing.
“Max has had a few years of racing but has not had years in the streets like Lewis.
“It has built character and knowing he would win the race with Mercedes being the dominant force over the past few years has made him a much stronger character than Max.
“For Max, this season is the first one he has had a car capable of winning regularly whereas before it was nothing like competitive.”
Ecclestone is happy for either of them to win – but he has not been to a race since attending the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the last event before the pandemic took hold of the world.
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The 91-year-old was removed from his position as chief executive of Formula One Group on January 23 2017 after the company was taken over by American mass media giants Liberty Media.
Verstappen has one more race win than Hamilton, which means the Brit needs to better his world title rival in Abu Dhabi this weekend. If the pair both crash out then Verstappen will be crowned the world champion.
Mercedes have not lost a drivers' championship since Sebastian Vettel on the last of his four successive titles with Red Bull in 2013, with Hamilton winning six and former teammate Nico Rosberg claiming the title in 2016.
Formula 1 travels to the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 12, with Red Bull star Verstappen and Mercedes’ Hamilton level on points ahead of the final race of the season.
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