Motor racing: Mercedes in 'unmarked territory' as Hamilton goes for eighth title

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton attends a press conference ahead of the Abu Dhabi grand prix. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ABU DHABI (AFP) - Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said his "incredible" Mercedes team had beaten the odds to give him a chance of claiming an unprecedented eighth world title in Abu Dhabi on Sunday (Dec 12).

Title rival Max Verstappen, meanwhile, said he hoped that the championship would not be settled by "controversial decisions" by the stewards.

Hamilton heads into the season finale on the back of three successive Grand Prix victories to put him level on points with Red Bull's Verstappen.

"We are into unmarked territory as a team," said Hamilton, 36, during Thursday's pre-race press conference.

"Obviously, with the year that we've had, I am sure many people would have ruled us out being this close right at the end.

"It's been an incredible group effort from everyone back at the factory and at the track.

"No one has ever done eight before but I feel grateful."

Hamilton, who was 23 when he won his first title in 2008, empathised with the 24-year-old Verstappen who is bidding for his first title.

"I remember what it's like going 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 a lot of hope that we would be sitting here at the end of the season fighting for a title," he said.

"But I think from the start, we were very competitive. We had good results, a bit of bad luck as well. But overall we can be really proud of the whole team effort, to be sitting here and fighting for this title."

The battle between the drivers has been marked by a number of incidents on the track, notably at Silverstone when Verstappen ended up in the crash barriers and at Monza when the Red Bull went airborne and landed on top of the Mercedes.

In last Sunday's Saudi Arabian GP, Verstappen was ordered to give up the lead to Hamilton for an illegal manoeuvre and handed a five-second penalty, prompting suggestions, not least from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, that the stewards were favouring Mercedes.

Both drivers, however, played down the fear that the title might be decided on Sunday on the whim of the stewards.

"I don't know about what's coming up, of course but I think already, throughout the year, there have been a few things which were maybe a bit controversial," said Verstappen.

"But yes, it is what it is. You can't really do anything about it. I think we just have to focus on the positive for this weekend. We just want action on the track.

"I think from both sides we want to win clearly and it should be about that, not about controversial decisions."

The experienced Hamilton, who currently shares the record of seven titles with Michael Schumacher, shrugged off the suggestion that the stewards will have the final say.

"I just don't give it any energy," he said. "I'm here for a great race. We're arriving on a positive as a team. We've got the car in a great place.

"They (Red Bull) won here last year so without doubt, they're going to be strong this weekend.

"But I think we have chased and caught up a lot. I think we can come here and be strong this weekend."

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