When will the 2021 F1 championship be decided?

F1

Max Verstappen's lead in the Formula 1 drivers' championship has been cut to eight points and there's now a stronger possibility of the title going down to the wire in Abu Dhabi

Lewis Hamilton alongside Max Verstappen

DPPI

Max Verstappen‘s advantage in this year’s Formula 1 World Championship has been cut to eight points and, with two races left this season, Lewis Hamilton has managed to seize back the momentum with two victories in a row.

So all really is left to play for. Hamilton could overhaul Verstappen’s lead at the next race in Saudi Arabia or the Dutchman could be crowned champion there. But it’s looking increasingly likely that the 2021 title will go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

It’s so close that fastest lap points could prove decisive.

What we do know for certain is:

  • With 52 points remaining, only Hamilton or Verstappen can be champion
  • Verstappen could be crowned champion at the next grand prix in Saudi Arabia
  • Hamilton can only win the title at the season finale in Abu Dhabi
  • Verstappen would be champion in the event of a tie

Max Verstappen bumps fists with Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen is currently favourite, courtesy of his points lead but Red Bull, which has generally had a small advantage over Mercedes during this season, hasn’t been able to match the pace of its rival over the past two races.

Which car proves fastest in the next two races is uncertain, courtesy of a brand new track in Saudi Arabia and revised layout for Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen had a 19-point advantage after the Mexican Grand Prix, but that has now been cut by more than half and could be eliminated if Hamilton wins and claims the extra point for fastest lap in Saudi Arabia. A second place for Verstappen in that scenario would send both drivers to Abu Dhabi level on points. A lesser finish or retirement for the Red Bull could see Hamilton arriving at the final race as championship leader.

Both drivers are in with a strong shout of being champion. Here’s how each could do it:

 

F1 championship points after Qatar Grand Prix

Position Driver Points Gap to leader
1 Max Verstappen 351.5
2 Lewis Hamilton 343.5 -8
Maximum points remaining 52
3 Valtteri Bottas 203 -148.5

 

How Max Verstappen can win the 2021 F1 championship

There have been 20 races so far this year and in 12 of those, Verstappen and Hamilton have finished in the top two.

Verstappen’s goal is uncomplicated. He needs to continue that run and ensure that he wins at least one of the next two races.

A win and a second-place would guarantee him the championship without even having to worry about fastest lap points. The graph below shows how he would win by six points if Hamilton won ahead of Verstappen in Saudi Arabia, then finished second behind the Dutchman in Abu Dhabi, while also setting the fastest lap in both races.

Verstappen title win projections from Qatar

In the most optimistic scenario for him, Verstappen would be crowned champion at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix at the beginning of December if he wins and sets the fastest lap, while Hamilton finishes sixth or worse, earning no more than eight points. A second-place finish would see Verstappen win the title in Jeddah if Hamilton fails to score.

The Red Bull driver only needs a 26-point lead at the end of the next race because he will have more race wins than Hamilton in any scenario where the championship is drawn, which would see him become champion.

But that’s assuming that Mercedes doesn’t continue to build on its momentum from the past two races where Valtteri Bottas has not had a chance to run at the front.

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Given the car’s pace over the past two races, it’s not out of the question that Hamilton and Bottas will produce a 1-2 finish in Saudi Arabia — the first of the year — to put Verstappen on the back foot and trailing by at least a point. On current form, it’s more likely than Sergio Perez assisting his team-mate’s title bid by taking points from Hamilton.

Another strong performance by Mercedes in Abu Dhabi would see Verstappen looking vulnerable and in need of some of his midseason magic: between the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August and the Mexican race in early November, he extended his lead by an average of three points per lead to build a cushion of 19 points. That has more than halved in the past two races.

Mercedes cars at the end of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Mercedes’ last 1-2 came at Imola in the 2020. It’ll be hoping for a revival of that form to take points from Verstappen

LAT via Mercedes

We don’t know whether reliability will play an issue. Hamilton’s Mercedes was fitted with its fifth engine this year in Brazil. Will it be enough to see him to the end of the season?

Red Bull isn’t immune either. The car has appeared bulletproof this year, but it would just take a faulty tyre; a sticking wheel nut; a visor caught in an air intake; a mis-tightened connector; or a cracking rear wing to put him out of the race and allow Hamilton to take the lead (how do race engineers sleep at night?).

Finally, the spectre of Covid still looms, with testing still taking place throughout the paddock. All it would take would be an unfortunate contact in a departure lounge, or in a hotel room and he could easily be ruled out of a race. Then Verstappen would be helplessly reliant on Perez, and potentially a replacement, to deprive Hamilton of maximum points.

 

How Lewis Hamilton can win the 2021 F1 World Championship

Hamilton’s two wins in Brazil and Qatar have reignited his championship hopes. Can he channel the spirit of 2014 when he was 29 points behind Nico Rosberg and responded with a string of five successive victories? A third win in Saudi Arabia, where the Mercedes is expected to run well, could see him arrive in Abu Dhabi with the championship lead.

There are plenty of permutations that would bring an eighth championship Hamilton’s way but nothing less than more race wins are likely to satisfy him — and with reason.

Verstappen has been adept at maximising his points haul when he has been off the top step of the podium. Apart from at Silverstone, where he was nerfed off the track, the Dutchman has finished second every time that Hamilton has won.

So Hamilton can’t rely on the Red Bull driver slipping up: he has to target maximum points every time, with fastest lap bonuses potentially being critical.

The graph below shows what will happen if Hamilton wins the remaining races and Verstappen finishes second. The Mercedes driver would win but the title would go down to the wire. Not included in the graphic are the the points available for fastest laps.

Hamilton title win projections from Qatar

Also crucial will be the motivation of Valtteri Bottas whose pole position in Mexico and the Brazilian sprint race win showed that he’s not slowly winding down before his move to Alfa Romeo.

A 1-2 Mercedes finish could close the gap in the championship table by up to 11 points per race, gouging Verstappen’s advantage and putting Hamilton ahead as they went to Abu Dhabi.

Bottas isn’t renowned for his role as rear-gunner, but he’ll surely be encouraged to defend aggressively against Verstappen: if it ends off the track, then it would benefit Hamilton’s title hopes, without too much impact on the constructors’ fight.

As long as Hamilton can finish, that is. He took his fifth engine, and resulting penalty, in Brazil and will be hoping to finish the season without another. That will be critical for his title hopes, as will his car’s reliability. Any retirement where Verstappen goes on to score points, or a Covid diagnosis that sees Hamilton miss a race, and the chances of retaining the title suddenly become slim.