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 three 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, regardless of where Verstappen finishes.
Were Verstappen to win or finish ahead of Hamilton in Qatar, extending his 14-point lead, he would go to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with a chance of wrapping up the championship at the penultimate race.
A 26-point gap to Hamilton after Saudi will be enough to secure the title before the final race, as a tied championship would be awarded to Verstappen by virtue of having more wins this year (he currently has nine to Hamilton’s six, meaning Hamilton would need to win all three remaining races to level up).
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 that is too extensive to list.
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. However, if the teammates of the title rivals, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, can break into the top two and finish 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.
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 Bottas (in Mexico) and Perez (in Brazil) make a late pit stop for soft tyres to deprive the rival team of the point, and it’s likely we’ll see more of the same at the next three rounds.
Added to the tight drivers’ championship battle 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 two cars scoring. For example, a one-two finish nets 43 points (which only McLaren has achieved so far this year) whereas third and fourth is only worth 22.
While the constructors’ title has less media focus, the order of the teams decides the division of prize money for the following year and is also linked to the bonuses of team members.