Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said his “incredible” Mercedes team had beaten the odds to give him a shot at an unprecedented eighth world title in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
Title rival Max Verstappen, meanwhile, said he hoped the championship would not be settled by “controversial decisions” by the stewards.
Hamilton is entering the season finale after three consecutive Grand Prix wins to level him up with Red Bull’s Verstappen.
“We are in unmarked territory as a team,” said 36-year-old Hamilton during the pre-race press conference.
“Of course, with the year we’ve had, I’m sure a lot of people would have ruled out that we’d be this close in the end.
“It was an incredible group effort from everyone in the factory and on the track.
“No one ever did eight, but I’m thankful.”
Hamilton, who was 23 when he won his first title in 2008, empathized with 24-year-old Verstappen bidding for his first title.
“I remember what it’s like to go for your first, so I know. I had those experiences and the rollercoaster of emotions that you go through,” he said.
The young Dutchman won in Abu Dhabi a year ago, but was cautious about his hopes of repeating that success and taking the crown on Sunday.
“After last year I didn’t have much hope that we would be here fighting for a title at the end of the season,” he said.
“But I think we were very competitive from the start. We had good results, also a bit of bad luck. But overall, we can be very proud of the whole team performance, to sit here and fight for this title.”
The battle between the drivers was marked by a number of incidents on the track, most notably at Silverstone when Verstappen crashed into the crash barriers and at Monza when the Red Bull took off and landed on top of the Mercedes.
At the Saudi Arabian GP last Sunday, Verstappen was ordered to relinquish the lead to Hamilton for an illegal maneuver and was given a five-second penalty, sparking suggestions, not least from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, that the stewards preferred Mercedes.
However, both drivers allayed fears that the title would be decided on a whim from the stewards on Sunday.
“I don’t know what’s coming of course, but I think there have been a few things all year that may have been a bit controversial,” said Verstappen.
“But yes, it is what it is. You can’t really do anything about it. I think we need to focus on the positive this weekend. We just want action on the track.
“I think we clearly want to win from both sides and it should be about that, not about controversial decisions.”
The veteran Hamilton, who currently shares the record of seven titles with Michael Schumacher, dismissed the suggestion that the stewards have the final say.
“I just don’t give it energy,” he said. “I’m here for a great race. We are coming in positive as a team. We have the car in a great place.
“They (Red Bull) won here last year, so no doubt they will be strong this weekend.
“But I think we chased and overtook a lot. I think we can come here this weekend and be strong.”
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