Max Verstappen could claim his maiden title this weekend
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Formula One’s most gripping title race in years will be decided by a double-header in the Middle East with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton going head-to-head over the next two weekends for Red Bull and Mercedes respectively.
Verstappen is currently favourite, courtesy of his points lead, but Mercedes have had the greater pace during recent races, meaning Hamilton has been able to rein in his rival and keep himself in the hunt.
Where are the final two races?
First up is the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix this weekend. The season ends the following weekend in Abu Dhabi with a race on December 12.
Can the title be won this weekend?
Yes. Verstappen, who leads by eight points, can end things in Saudi Arabia. If Lewis Hamilton fails to score, the Dutchman needs only to finish in the top two to claim his maiden title.
Far more likely, particularly if Saudi Arabia proves a happy hunting ground for Mercedes, Hamilton will win, and the title rivals will be neck and neck heading to Abu Dhabi, literally so if Hamilton wins in Saudi Arabia with the fastest lap bonus point and Verstappen is second.
With a maximum of 52 points remaining across the two races, Hamilton can only win the title at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, and not this weekend.
Do the tracks suit Verstappen or Hamilton?
F1 has never visited Saudi Arabia before. In fact, the purpose-built ‘street circuit’ on the Jeddah Corniche has not even been completed. Recent carefully cropped images appearing on official channels suggest the track itself looks ready to go, but there remains a lot of work to be done in the construction areas surrounding it. On paper, though, the Jeddah circuit looks likely to suit Lewis Hamilton far more than Max Verstappen, with plenty of long flat-out stretches where Mercedes can really get their engine working.
Red Bull were hopeful that after the huge straight-line speed advantage enjoyed by Mercedes in Mexico and Brazil, they had managed to neuter their rivals’ pace by petitioning the FIA to introduce new load tests on the rear wing in Qatar, an area they felt Mercedes were exploiting.
However, Toto Wolff warned that Mercedes were preparing to bring back their “spicy equipment” for Saudi Arabia next weekend. “Saudi should be a good track for us,” said the Mercedes team principal. “It’s a long straight… we will get our spicy equipment out – engine – for Saudi Arabia that we didn’t use [in Qatar].”
As for Abu Dhabi, again it may depend on whether Mercedes get the chili oil out. If they do, it will be another Hamilton track. If not, it is too close to call. Hamilton loves Yas Marina, winning there once for McLaren in 2011 and four times in seven starts for Mercedes. But Verstappen and Red Bull dominated the entire weekend in Abu Dhabi last year (although Hamilton had already tied up the championship by then and was recovering from a bout of Covid).
What are the latest title odds?
- Lewis Hamilton 4/6
- Max Verstappen 6/5