While last year’s thrilling Formula One title battle went down to the wire and captivated the sporting world, this year’s championship has long looked like a parade for Max Verstappen.
It’s all over by Sunday if the Red Bull driver wins the Singapore Grand Prix and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crashes. Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points and will win the title if he finishes 22 points ahead of Leclerc. Verstappen, who turns 25 on Friday, must win to win a second world title, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can’t finish ninth; If Verstappen wins and gets the bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can’t finish eighth.
“It’s a long shot,” Verstappen said. “I need a lot of luck for it to happen here, so I don’t believe it.” Verstappen took the title at the Japanese GP on October 9th, which is more realistic.
“I think Suzuka will be my first proper chance to win the title,” said the Dutchman. “So I’m looking forward to Singapore now, but I’m also really excited about next week.” However, there will be no tension in the air at the Marina Bay Street circuit on Sunday night, as there was last year in Abu Dhabi when Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton lost the title to Verstappen on the final lap. Hamilton missed out on an eighth F1 title in a controversial finish following a confusing late restart.
It saddens Hamilton that fans won’t see more of that kind of drama this season. “I feel for the fans last year, it went down to the wire, it was intense for everyone, so it’s never better when the season ends early,” Hamilton said. “For you, as an individual (winner) it’s great, but for the actual game (it’s) not spectacular.
Let’s hope it gets a little better in the future. Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez (125 points behind), Mercedes driver Jorge Russell (132 behind) and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr (152) remain the only mathematical title challengers. Red Bull are unlikely to give Perez a chance to beat Verstappen. Verstappen has won 11 of 16 races, including the last five, taking his career tally to 31.
“It’s been a really great season and I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “But I’ll enjoy (it) again after the season.” He has won from seven different grid positions, starting 14th at the Belgian GP last month – a single-season F1 record. “It’s even better to see when you’re in the car,” says McLaren driver Lando Norris.
“Especially when he’s starting (at a distance) he still wins easily.” Hamilton hasn’t come close to challenging Verstappen this year.
Two of Hamilton’s titles were on the last day: in 2008 when he overtook in the final corner of the final race, and in 2014 when he beat then-Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. Two years later he lost the title to Rosberg in the last race.
Hamilton won the championship in 2015 with three races to spare, and he won the 2020 title at the Turkish GP on short notice due to the coronavirus pandemic. He tied with fellow great Michael Schumacher on seven titles in 2002 when he won with six races remaining. An outstanding campaign saw Schumacher finish first or second in 16 of 17 races, and third in Malaysia – won by his younger brother Ralf.
Hamilton won a record 103 races but was without a victory this season.
Mercedes struggled with ground effect, where the ground creates aerodynamic grip – a problem known as porpoising or bouncing – which is particularly difficult on street circuits like Monaco or Azerbaijan. Singapore’s tight 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) street course can again be a challenge. “We believe the car will do well here. It really depends on how bumpy it is, and the bumps often stop the car,” Hamilton said. “Maybe the car will do well. Maybe it won’t.” He thinks Mercedes has figured out how to make the most of the opportunities when they come.
“We know where those limits are… we have to try and work around them,” he said. “I think we’re very lucky, I think we’re in a great place. So I hope we’re not too far away (from victory). However, Russell seems to have coped well and leads Hamilton in sixth place with 35 points in the standings. Compared to Hamilton’s six He has seven podium finishes.
Williams driver Alex Alban returned to racing after three weeks spent in hospital with appendicitis and then breathing problems.
Alban Williams jumped back into the FW44 for the first practice session in hot and humid evening conditions on Friday.
“It’s definitely brave just coming back for the toughest race of the season,” Russell said. “But it shows the determination and determination he has.” Drivers lose about 5 kg (11 lb) due to dehydration during Sunday’s race.