Three things could still go wrong for Lewis Hamilton in Max Verstappen title fight
F1: Hamilton v Verstappen in numbers
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It is a title race which has enthralled all who have been watching. The lead, the form book and luck have swung back and forth between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen throughout the entire season. Now, we are just two race weekends away from learning which of them will be rewarded for their endeavours.
In the Red (Bull) corner, we have the current leader who has the slender advantage of an eight-point cushion – though that is nowhere near as comfortable as it looked when it stood at 21 just a few weeks ago.
And his competition, the seven-time world champion who has been here and done it all before on many occasions, seems to have the momentum.
Hamilton’s car looks faster, the circuits seem to suit the Mercedes machinery more and he certainly has the advantage when it comes to experience and handling the pressure of a title battle.
But that certainly doesn’t mean he has it in the bag – there are still plenty of things that could go disastrously wrong for the 36-year-old.
Another crash or DNF
After a brilliant season and the most entertaining title race in years, it would be such a shame for it to be decided by a crash. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible – after all it’s happened already in 2021.
They both crashed out at Monza when an aggressive move from Verstappen ended with his car on top of Hamilton’s in a gravel trap.
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And that came after contact at Silverstone sent the Red Bull star hurtling into a barrier – and left Hamilton unchallenged in a race he went on to win.
Much will depend on what happens in Saudi Arabia this weekend, of course, but chances are Hamilton will still be behind or, at best, level on points heading into the final round.
That’s because, even if he dominates all weekend and wins easily in Jeddah, Verstappen seems almost certain for second – apart from his three crash DNFs and the time he sustained heavy damage in Hungary, the Dutchman has finished in the top two in every single race this season.
So if he is still ahead going into the Abu Dhabi decider, what’s to stop him from taking out his rival to ensure he stays there? No doubting it would be a tremendously unsavoury way to win it, but it’s an option he has.
Even if he doesn’t cause a crash on purpose, we have seen him be aggressive in so many situations – one more flashpoint cannot be ruled out.
It’s something which has plagued Mercedes throughout the entire season – all eight drivers on the grid using power units made by the German manufacturer have had to take at least one penalty for using an extra unit in 2021.
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Hamilton has used five this season – the annual limit is three – with the last two of those coming within four rounds of each other, first in Turkey and then in Brazil.
Much has been made of the “spicy” engine that has been kept in reserve for these two final race weekends, with Mercedes apparently confident it will give the Briton the speed he needs to win both Grand Prix.
But more engine issues cannot be ruled out, and even that high-powered ICE they are boasting about could still suffer from the same issues that have affected his other power units.
There’s no ruling out the prospect of Mercedes being forced to add a sixth engine for the final round – the Silver Arrows might even decide the extra power from a fresh bit of machinery is worth the trade-off of another minor grid penalty.
No matter what, there will likely be difficult calls for Toto Wolff and his engineers to make.
The second drivers
Considering neither Sergio Perez nor Valtteri Bottas have been able to touch their respective team-mates this season, it’s easy to forget the vital roles they both still have to play.
The constructors’ championship is even tighter than the drivers’ title race, so the points they earn will be precious to their teams.
But as for their impact on the drivers’ standings, it’s possible those two second drivers (not officially, but we all know they are) could still affect things in a pretty big way.
We saw it in Turkey when Perez was pitted to undercut Hamilton, and that move played a big role in restricting the Briton to fifth place.
And Red Bull used the Mexican to disrupt the Mercedes ace again the following race weekend in the USA, which resulted in a Verstappen victory.
Bottas won that race in Turkey with a brilliant drive, but has proven to be less adept at fighting off rivals than Perez has – twice he has offered little resistance to Verstappen, first in Russia and again in Mexico.
If that trend continues, it might even be Sergio Perez who has the biggest say in who comes out on top in this epic title battle.
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