The races are flying by thick and fast now and Brazil’s return to the Formula 1 calendar also hosts the final sprint qualifying race of the year.
Extra points are on offer for a victory in the one-third distance race on Saturday meaning Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have to make the most of the chance though the elephant in the room can’t be ignored.
There has been contact twice between them this year and both of those occasions came on a sprint qualifying race weekend. Will we see a repeat at Interlagos?
Meanwhile Ferrari has opened up some breathing room between itself and McLaren in the battle for third in the constructors’ standings. AlphaTauri also moved level with Alpine for fifth place following the Mexican GP, and there’s a chance it could go ahead this weekend based on form.
Here is what you should be looking out for this weekend during the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Seb and Fernando are joint leaders in the season standings 👀
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 10, 2021
No this isn’t the early 2010s but Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are fighting it out for the title. Alright it’s not the title but the inaugural winner of the Crypto.com Overtaking Award is likely to be one of the multi-time world champions.
Ahead of the Brazilian GP, they are both tied for first on 104 overtakes this season with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll behind them in third with 97.
Neither of the champions has a line of NFTs (yet) nor will they get the keys to the Crypto-mobile last seen at Silverstone but there is a trophy on offer.
Whether it will truly satisfy either is unknown but getting one over on the other will mean a lot more.
If there’s a race Hamilton must win this season it’s the Brazilian Grand Prix. The gap in the championship stands at 19 points and should Verstappen score his 10th victory of the year, he can afford to finish second to Hamilton for the rest of the season and still secure the title (discounting the fastest lap point fun).
Considering these two have been the stand-outs of the year, demonstrated by their immense US Grand Prix battle, a scenario in which they take the top two places until Abu Dhabi is not hard to imagine.
Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas will be used as pawns in this game. The Finn was pulled in twice in the final five laps in Mexico to deprive Verstappen of an extra fastest lap point while Perez has derailed Hamilton’s race strategy for two races running.
Interlagos has suited Red Bull more than Mercedes in recent years and but for Esteban Ocon’s 2018 tangle with the Dutchman attempting to un-lap himself, Verstappen would be heading into the weekend as the winner of the last two Brazilian rounds.
But, as was the case in Mexico, the form book reads one in each column between the title contenders in the past two races at this circuit. Mercedes simply has to win to keep a realistic hope of clinching the drivers’ title.
The Great Gasly
A lot has happened since then and the Frenchman is now a race winner so what could he achieve this weekend on his return to the scene of such great memories?
Last weekend he finished a very commendable albeit anonymous fourth in Mexico as the AlphaTauri Honda package proved to be very competitive in his hands.
Gasly’s P4 finish in Mexico also moved AlphaTauri level with Alpine in the constructors’ standings. A repeat of his quiet Mexico drive to points and the Italian team could be fifth heading into the final three races of the season.
Perez has been a thorn in the side of Hamilton in the recent rounds and Gasly isn’t far behind either; he too could play into the title battle.
Three for three
It probably won’t have escaped you that each of the times the two title contenders have collided it has happened on a sprint qualifying weekend. First at Silverstone with that controversial first lap moment at Copse and then the Italian GP collision as the two fought for track position.
So, third time ‘lucky’?
Verstappen is the one who can afford to take the risks, a non-points finish for Hamilton at this stage is catastrophic for his hopes of retaining the championship but that doesn’t mean the Red Bull driver is about to bulldoze his rival off the track.
The United States GP race start fell the way of Hamilton after a poorer launch for Verstappen left him on the defensive. He squeezed as close as he could to the Mercedes but ultimately conceded the position. But they never came to blows despite that eventuality suiting the Red Bull driver.
Instead, he kept a level head and won the race on strategy with a sublime final stint to hold onto the win. Sprint qualifying hasn’t quite turned into a free-for-all that Ross Brawn and co had hoped it might be but the points on offer are more valuable than ever before.
Verstappen appears to be in control of his own destiny and driving with the bigger picture in mind. That’s not to say he’s lost his do-or-die state of mind in wheel-to-wheel situations but it has made him a much greater threat to Hamilton, who on the other hand can no longer afford to finish P2 to his rival.
Does that make a third crash between them inevitable? We will see…