Formula 1 traveled to the Losail International Circuit for the first time in its history for the Grand Prix of Qatar. Tensions between the sport’s top two teams reached a boiling point with Red Bull Racing’s team principal Christian Horner exchanging barbs with Mercedes GP’s team principal Toto Wolff.
In a show of brute strength, Lewis Hamilton captured pole position for the race and backed that up with a commanding victory in the race to narrow the points gap to Max Verstappen.
While Horner’s remarks got himself into trouble with the FIA, and penalties during yellow-flag running grabbed headlines, Lewis Hamilton got on with the job of winning races.
With two races left to go in a season that has provided non-stop action, the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen now stands at a miniscule eight points.
Lewis Hamilton looks like the man to beat at the moment
A few weeks ago, Formula 1 was in Mexico City for a Grand Prix that was all about Max Verstappen. The Dutch ace, driving the Red Bull, appeared to have a vise-like grip on the championship with Hamilton and Mercedes unable to respond to their rival’s pace and performance.
An engine swap and a stunning come from behind victory at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, a week later, saw Lewis Hamilton regain the momentum in the championship fight. A 19 point deficit slimmed to 14, and the Mercedes team now appear rejuvenated and as dominant as ever.
Heading to Qatar in the middle east, the first stop of the final three races of the season, Hamilton needed to continue his winning ways in order to secure a history-making eighth world championship. He looked to be on the back foot in free practice, but a crushing qualifying lap saw the Briton snag pole position for the race.
A series of penalties affected Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, and title rival Max Verstappen, with each of them having to take grid penalties for driving too fast under yellow flag conditions.
A frustrated Red Bull team lashed out at the FIA and the stewards, with Christian Horner getting himself in hot water for failing to control his emotions. Horner’s sentiments echo those of Red Bull advisor and driver program manager Helmut Marko.
The comments, press conference remarks and threats of protest against Mercedes’ rear wing showed off a Red Bull team that is nervous about their title bid falling flat at the end of a fiercely fought season.
Verstappen drove brilliantly to recover from the penalty and capture second place when the checkered flag flew, but his pace was no match for Lewis Hamilton who is fired-up and on a mission to win the championship.
Hamilton cruised to a victory at the Losail Circuit and now, with two races to go, is the hot favorite to win the title.
This is what Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen need to win the championship
There are two races left in the 2021 Formula 1 season. Saudi Arabia is next, at the new Jeddah Circuit followed by the season finale at Abu Dhabi. Max Verstappen still has the advantage in points over Lewis Hamilton, but eight points is not a big buffer and no guarantee of success.
For Lewis Hamilton, wins are necessary. He will have to continue his dominant performances to have any shot at capturing the drivers’ title. Hamilton will have to assume that Verstappen will be right on his tail, and any mistakes or failure to finish will hand the championship to his Dutch rival.
Hamilton can win his eighth world championship by winning the final two races of the season, regardless of where Verstappen finishes. If Verstappen finishes in third or lower for either of the last two races then Hamilton only needs to win one and finish second in the other to take home the title.
Max Verstappen needs to take a win away from Hamilton in the final two races. Verstappen, who is looking for his first Formula 1 championship, needs one win and one second place to claim glory. Anything less than that and he will have to wait until next year to try again.
The race to the title is too close to call with each driver looking tough to beat
Lewis Hamilton may have the momentum going into the final two races of the season, but his rival, Verstappen is a tenacious fighter and will be giving everything he has to beat the Briton.
Hamilton has the experience, his car has the speed, and the 2021 season might be the last best chance for him to win the championship. He is the favorite heading into the next round at the Jeddah Circuit. The track layout should favor the Mercedes car and it’s straight line speed advantage over the Red Bull.
Max Verstappen is arguably the faster driver, but his Red Bull race car might be at a disadvantage against the brute strength of the Mercedes engine. Verstappen is impervious to pressure, and has put in some spectacular performances when it matters most, but he is facing a rival who has been the dominant force in Formula 1 for the past few seasons.
Either driver could take the title and each would be a worthy champion. The battle will come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes and who can gain a track position advantage over the other.
Regardless of who wins, the 2021 season is one of the best and hardest fought in recent years.