Formula 1 championship leader Max Verstappen can sprint to his third win in a row at the Brazilian Grand Prix but Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes intend to strike back hard after painful defeats in the United States and Mexico.
Verstappen is now 19 points ahead of seven-times world champion Hamilton with four races remaining and a first title is within the Dutchman’s reach heading into the final stages of one of the closest and most exciting seasons in years.
His Red Bull team need to score two points more than Mercedes to take over at the top of the constructors’ standings.
The 24-year-old Verstappen has nine victories to Hamilton’s five this year and one more will mean he ends the season with the most, but Mercedes hope to regain lost momentum at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos.
Wolff: Expect these titles to go right down to the wire
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said: “We’ll be throwing everything we’ve got at the Brazilian Grand Prix and the races beyond,” using the old name of a race rebranded as the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
“We’re privileged to still be in the fight so late in the season and expect these titles to go right down to the wire, with both teams fighting hard to the very last lap,” added the Austrian.
“We’ve got some catching up to do and know it’ll be an intense battle, but we’ll continue to push hard and keep our eyes firmly set on the end goal.”
The odds favour Verstappen, winner from pole last time Interlagos featured pre-pandemic in 2019. Hamilton won in 2016 and 2018 in front of a crowd that always brings something of a carnival atmosphere.
Wolf added: “It’s not been our strongest track in recent seasons and has tended to suit Red Bull more, but this year has proved anything can happen. It’s the last sprint race weekend, too, which opens up more opportunity.”
Hamilton: With their superior speed we may be in trouble
The sprint format — qualifying on Friday for a 100km race on Saturday to set Sunday’s starting grid — has been trialled at Silverstone and Monza and is set to feature much more in 2022, with plans for six such races.
Points are awarded 3-2-1 for the top three on Saturday which means there is room for Verstappen to forge further ahead than usual or for Hamilton to rein in the advantage to a greater extent.
“I’m looking forward to Brazil. I have also very good memories there,” Verstappen said after winning last weekend in Mexico City, while expecting Mercedes to be more competitive.
Hamilton was less sure of that: “With their superior speed, if they were to carry that into the next ones then we may be in trouble — or we will be in trouble.”
There are also big battles being fought further down the field, with historic rivals Ferrari and McLaren scrapping for third place overall while Renault-owned Alpine and Red Bull’s AlphaTauri are level on points in fifth.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, fourth in Mexico, took his first Formula One podium with second place in Brazil in 2019. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)
2021 Brazilian Grand Prix
- 19th Round of the 2021 Formula 1 Wolrd Championship
- Sao Paulo’s Autodromo Carlos Pace, Interlagos:
- Lap distance: 4.309km. Total distance: 305.909km (71 laps)
- 2019 pole position: Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull one minute 07.508 seconds.
- 2019 winner: Verstappen
- Race lap record: Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes, 1:10.540 seconds (2018)
- Start time: 1700GMT/1400 local
- NOTE: No race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Four of the current drivers have won in Brazil: Vettel (2010, 2013, 2017), Raikkonen (2007), Hamilton (2016, 2018), Verstappen (2019).
- Brazil has been on the calendar since 1973, starting at Interlagos before moving to Rio de Janeiro and then returning to Sao Paulo. The circuit is named after Brazilian driver Jose Carlos Pace, who won there in 1975 and died in 1977.
- Hamilton clinched his first title in Brazil with McLaren in 2008 with an overtake on the last corner of the final lap.
- Sunday will be the 48th world championship grand prix in Brazil, and 38th at Interlagos. Michael Schumacher has the most wins at the Sao Paulo circuit, with four.
- Since the start of the hybrid era in 2014, the winner has started on pole position five times out of six. The exception was Vettel, from second, in 2017.
- There is no Brazilian driver on the starting grid. The country has produced six race winning drivers and three world champions.
Sprint Race Weekend
- This weekend will be the third time the Sprint format has been used, with qualifying on Friday for a 100km (24 lap) race on Saturday that determines the starting grid for Sunday’s main race.
- Points will be awarded to the top three on Saturday in a 3-2-1 system, meaning a maximum 29 points are available over the weekend (25 for a race win +1 for fastest lap + 3 for Sprint win).
- The other two Sprint races were at Silverstone and Monza.
- Hamilton has a record 100 career victories, of which 79 have been with Mercedes, from 284 starts. He has been on the podium 178 times.
- Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen has won nine times this year to Hamilton’s five. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes’ Bottas have each won once.
- Ferrari have won 238 races since 1950, McLaren 183, Mercedes 121, Williams 114 and Red Bull 74.
- Hamilton has a record 101 career poles and has won 59 times from pole. He and team mate Valtteri Bottas have each had three poles in 2021 — Bottas two of the last three.
- Verstappen has been on pole nine times in 2021, while Leclerc was fastest in Azerbaijan and Monaco qualifying. McLaren’s Lando Norris was on pole in Russia.
- 2021 World Championship
- Verstappen is 19 points ahead of Hamilton. Mercedes lead Red Bull by one point. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin