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Formula 1

Will the triple-header decide F1’s title fight? – Our verdict

by Josh Suttill
6 min read

Five races in six weekends will decide the fate of the 2021 Formula 1 drivers’ championship, but could the title actually be settled earlier than that?

Well, it’s a very real possibility as F1 arrives in Mexico for a gruelling continent-hopping triple-header that will push title protagonists Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton – as well as their respective Red Bull and Mercedes teams – to the limit.

Our writers give their verdict on whether or not the title race will be effectively decided by the upcoming Mexico-Brazil-Qatar triple-header.

Title could swing decisively in Verstappen’s favour

Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Race Day Austin, Usa

A quick-fire run of three races is of course significant in the narrative of the season but the high-altitude back-to-back of Mexico/Brazil is the most important element.

If the engine characteristics are the defining factor that could put Verstappen firmly in control. We know these are races Red Bull have historically done well at and the reasons are as much engine-related as car-related. That could protect Red Bull’s historical strength against the randomness of the 2021 season!

Should that be the case and Verstappen wins both races, then Hamilton won’t be in control of his own destiny. Verstappen will have at least a 24-point lead which means even if Hamilton wins the final three grands prix with fastest lap, Verstappen could finish second every time and still be champion on countback.

Of course, Verstappen could emerge from the next two or three races with a big lead and then suffer some misfortune or make a mistake that opens the door again. I’d be amazed if the title fight is mathematically over after Qatar.

But it could swing decisively in Verstappen’s favour in that time.

Mistakes for either would be costly

Gary Anderson

Max Verstappen Lewis Hamilton crash Monza

As the championship so far this year has shown, we have to expect the unexpected.

With five races to go, that means with the point for fastest lap for each event there are 130 points still on the table, plus three for the winner of our last sprint race in Brazil. That means a total of 133.

Max Verstappen has a 12-point advantage, so while it is better to have the advantage than a deficit, as Hamilton has it is, by no means a big enough margin to get complacent.

If I was in that position, I would be briefing the drivers to just take it one race at a time, get the best from your car and the best from yourself. Make as few mistakes as possible and allow the points to build. If that is achieved, then the battle can go to the last race of the season.

For Max, he needs to keep Lewis behind him and for Lewis it is the opposite. But it’s important not to go wild thinking you have to win every race. If others are competitive then let them have it, simply keep an eye on your competition as you only need one point more than the other guy to be world champion.

All that said, I doubt very much if either of them would listen to that advice! They are winners, they want to win so when the visor goes down that’s always their mission.

It has been a great battle up until now. It would be sad if one of them loses the championship because of red mist fogging their view of what is to come.

Likely things will remain very close

Edd Straw

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix Race Day Zandvoort, Netherlands

The points lead has already changed hands five times this season – not counting Hamilton taking the lead with his win in the Bahrain season-opener – so while the rapid-fire run of races does have the potential to decisively swing the balance of power the pattern of the season suggests there’s more chance that it will remain very much open heading into the final two races.

No driver has won at three consecutive circuits, with the only run of three consecutive victories for either driver this season Verstappen’s in France, Styria and Austria that included two races at the Red Bull Ring. And while Mexico looks likely to be Red Bull territory, Interlagos and Qatar could go either way given the relatively small gap in performance between the two teams even when one does have a pace advantage.

However, what could swing it one way or the other is a reliability problem for one or the other, which would result in a 25/26-point swing in favour of one driver or the other. And while that is perhaps a greater risk for Mercedes given its engine concerns, you never know when a problem might crop up for Red Bull – especially as there’s also the possibility of an on-track incident that could even be caused by the presence of a third party.

So on the balance of probability, there’s a decent chance that the points gap will still be within the spread of a race win at worst over the next three races. If reliability and on-track incidents are minimised, that means if either driver takes a decisive lead it’s more likely to be Verstappen given he already has that dozen-point lead and the risk of a Hamilton engine-change penalty. But given the proximity of the two cars on performance and the potential for the pace advantage to turn on a given weekend with only a very small swing between the two, and the shape of the season so far, it’s difficult to see one driver or the other being out of sight without some exceptional circumstances.

But you never know in this most unpredictable of title battles that has confounded expectations every step of the way. All you can really say is that such an epic fight deserves a winner-takes-all final decider to ensure it goes down as one of the greatest championship fights.

A test for F1

Matt Beer

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix Race Day Zandvoort, Netherlands

This season has offered so many surprises, form reversals, technical swings and controversies that the thought of it not going down to the wire feels a little bizarre – especially as the protagonists (drivers and teams) still feel so closely matched.

But I’ve had a lingering worry that ever longer calendars are asking more and more of F1’s ability to keep a fluctuating narrative going and feel that form patterns settling are an inevitability as the duration of a season extends.

Nov 01 : Why the Andretti/Sauber F1 deal collapsed

Five more races is still about a third of a 1990s F1 season and for things to continue to chop and change to the end might be too much to hope for over such a long period in a time of limited development.

It’s also a test of the points system. F1 has a relatively big gap between the reward for first and second places. Great for meritocracy but we’ll see in the coming years if it’s right for prolonging a narrative. Conversely, MotoGP, where the scoring gap is smaller and the competition is much more open, is terrible at generating last round deciders. But it’s also harder to be consistent in that world.

I realise the above is conclusion-less musing (that may well inspire my colleague Edd Straw to write a stats-based column on points systems, season lengths and the likelihood of last round deciders) but the 2021 denouement of definitely a test of whether F1 in its current format can take the drama right to the finish.

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