Will Max Verstappen be able to win his first Formula 1 championship this weekend?

Saudi Arabia’s inaugural grand prix will be critical in the title battle
by Adam Waddell | Dec 4, 2021
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PHOTO: Red Bull Content Pool

The 2021 season has been the longest and one of the most closely fought Formula 1 championships of all time, but it’s entirely possible that we could see an overall winner at this weekend’s penultimate round in Saudi Arabia. While Lewis Hamilton would have to wait another week before taking the title in Abu Dhabi on December 12, Max Verstappen can wrap it up this Sunday (well, Monday, local time) if things go his way.

Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points with two rounds remaining, and F1 rewards the top-10 finishers in each race as follows: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1, plus a bonus point for fastest lap. For Verstappen to win the championship this weekend, he needs to finish first or second and hope that Lewis has a poor race.

These are the scenarios that would see Max Verstappen crowned in Saudi Arabia:

  • Verstappen first + fastest lap, Hamilton 6th or lower
  • Verstappen first, Hamilton 7th or lower
  • Verstappen second + fastest lap, Hamilton 10th or lower
  • Verstappen second, Hamilton 11th or lower
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Any of those scenarios are of course entirely possible, but on recent form, one would have to say it’s more likely that Hamilton will still be in the hunt after the weekend given that he and his Dutch rival have occupied the top two steps of the podium in five of the last six races.

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Less than a month ago, however, things looked very different. After the Mexican GP, the Red Bull appeared to be the car to have, and having won the previous two rounds, Verstappen led the defending champion by 19 points. But since an engine change for Hamilton in Brazil, the tables have turned, and Hamilton-Mercedes now looks to be the quickest combination out there.

It’s unthinkable that barring any problems, the Brit will finish outside the top two. And if he were to win and take fastest lap with Verstappen in second, they’d both go to Abu Dhabi on an identical 369.5 points. That sounds like an entirely plausible scenario and would set things up enticingly for a winner takes all showdown a week later.

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With so much to play for, the teams and drivers won’t be helped by the number of unknowns they face this weekend. The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is brand-new, so the teams have no meaningful data ahead of the race and the fresh tarmac is likely to make it a low-grip circuit. At 6.1km, it’s the second-longest track on the calendar after Spa, and with an expected average lap time of 250kph+, it’s also one of the fastest.

Given that it’s a street circuit and a night race, it’ll be quite a challenge. And while most tracks have one DRS zone and some have two, subject to FIA approval, there could be three this weekend, so expect some overtaking. In short, it’s a crucial race for the championship that’ll be held on a track potentially faster than Silverstone but with minimal run-off and in the dark. It’ll be well worth a watch.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: Red Bull Content Pool
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