Lewis Hamilton’s heroics at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix narrowed Max Verstappen’s title lead to 14 points with three races to go.
Verstappen still has the advantage, but it is tantalisingly close heading into the final two races.
The run-in looks as follows:
Nov. 21: Qatar Grand Prix
Dec. 5: Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
Dec. 12: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
F1’s championship points are handed out as such: first, 25 points; second,18 points; third, 15 points; fourth, 12 points; fifth, 10 points; sixth, 8 points; seventh, 6 points; eighth, 4 points; ninth, 2 points; 10th, 1 point.
There is also an extra point to consider at each event, with the driver who scores the fastest lap gaining a bonus point, provided they also finish in the top ten.
Adding to the unpredictability of this season is that the next two venues are brand new additions to the F1 calendar.
Qatar and Saudi add an element of the unknown to the Verstappen-Hamilton contest, while Abu Dhabi has also made tweaks to the Yas Marina circuit to increase overtaking opportunities around the circuit.
The margin of Verstappen’s lead means the championship is not yet out of Hamilton’s hands. He will be champion if he wins the remaining three events.
Were Verstappen to win or finish ahead of Hamilton in Qatar, extending his 14-point lead, he would go to the Saudi Grand Prix with a chance of wrapping up the championship at the penultimate race. However, with F1’s points system providing points down to tenth place, there is the potential for a wide variety of permutations over the coming three races.
The fastest lap bonus point will provide a fascinating underlying storyline to the championship fight. And given how close the championship battle is, it could genuinely be decisive at one of the rounds. At the last two races we have seen the teammates of the title rivals, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas, pitting late in the race for soft tyres to deprive the rival team of the point.
Verstappen and Hamilton have finished first and second together in one order or the other at 10 of the 19 races this year, including the last three races. That means points swings of seven points (or eight with the fastest lap) have been the most common between the two drivers and, based on current form and with no reliability issues, that could be the case at the next three rounds.
However, if either Bottas or Perez can break into the top two behind their teammate, they have the potential to cause a ten-point swing (11 with fastest lap) between Verstappen and Hamilton, which could be decisive at this stage of the year.
Added to that is an even smaller gap between Red Bull and Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. Just 11 points separate the two teams, with the potential for larger swings in points at the remaining races due to both cars scoring points. While the constructors’ title has less media focus, the order decides the division of prize money for the following year and is linked to the bonuses of team members.