GULFWEEKLY: Although Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is a favourite for the upcoming two Formula 1 grands-prix in Mexico and Brazil, the final stage of the season in the Middle East is a pure wild card and could shift the course of the championship, according to a three-time F1 world champion.
Currently, Verstappen leads the championship by 12 points, after a hard-fought victory in Austin last week, but three-time Formula 1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart believes the title could boil down to reliability issues between the Dutchman and reigning champion Sir Lewis Hamilton.
“I think both drivers can still win it, but given the experience of both the team and the driver, Mercedes probably has the best chance,” Stewart added.
“It’s ultimately about who has the fewest mechanical failures, because they both drive superbly.”
The Mercedes package has been ironclad in terms of reliability in years past, but lately it seems to be faltering and the team’s usually reliable power unit seems to be struggling with the racing action.
The 2021 season has proven to be one of the most interesting in recent memory, with ontrack action intermingling with off-track drama.
During one of the practices before last week’s US Grand Prix, Verstappen went so far as to call his rival a ‘stupid idiot’ after getting frustrated with on-track traffic.
“It’s session by session, race by race,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner when speaking about the battle to be on top against Mercedes.
“You’ve just got to keep doing the basics well. We’ve got to make sure we’re reliable, that the pace is there, that we’re responding to whatever challenges are put on us.
“Five to go now and there are a couple of races that are going to be strong for us. We know a couple that will be strong for Mercedes, so it’s going to be really tight.”
The victory in Austin was a shock for the entire Mercedes team, as the track has historically been a stronghold for the Silver Arrows.
The consensus amongst experts and commentators seems to have since shifted towards Verstappen for the drivers’ title and Mercedes remaining the constructors’ champions.
“Defeat in a Mercedes stronghold in Texas has made life significantly harder, especially as the next two tracks in Mexico and Brazil suit Red Bull, largely because they’re at high altitude and Honda copes better with those conditions than Mercedes,” noted F1 senior writer Lawrence Barretto.
“But Hamilton is a fighter. He wants that eighth world title more than anything. He has bundles of experience and will be ready to pounce if Max Verstappen has even the slightest of slips, as the pressure builds in his chase for a first world title.”
Meanwhile, in the midfield, McLaren holds a razor-thin 3.5-point lead over Ferrari with stellar racing by both Lando Norris (McLaren) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), who stand at fifth and sixth in the driver standings.
Haas, meanwhile, continues to dominate the bottom of the standings, as always, but team boss Guenther Steiner attributes it to the team not developing their car this year.
“The 2022 car development is going well, we are making progress each wind tunnel session,” said Steiner.
“It’s a little bit like 2015 or 2016 to me, and as a team, we work together with the technical team in Italy, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we will be in the midfield again next year.
“There are still a lot of people from 2018 when we finished fifth in the championship. So these people are still good and they haven’t forgotten how to do this. I am confident they can pull it off again, that we [will] have good results – maybe not fifth but at least being back in the midfield like were in ’16 and ’17.”