- Mercedes have sprung a late charge for F1’s drivers world championship and are the team in form.
- Lewis Hamilton has won the last two races by a considerable margin and trails Max Verstappen by just eight points.
- Toto Wolff has promised Hamilton’s so-called “rocket engine” will be back in the car for the next race.
With just two races to go, the most exciting F1 title battle in years has swung once again, with Mercedes springing a late charge and firmly grasping the momentum away from Red Bull.
If you were to go back two races to the aftermath of the Mexican Grand Prix, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s chances seemed to be fading without a whimper.
Championship leader Max Verstappen had just won his ninth race of the season, further extending the gap between him and Hamilton, and was close to mathematically sealing the title.
Since then, however, Hamilton has reminded everyone why he is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers in F1 history, and why he’s pushing for a record eighth title.
Having seemingly always been a step ahead for the majority of the season, it is now Red Bull who are now struggling to keep up.
In Brazil, Hamilton was hit with a five-place grid penalty and a disqualification but still fought back to finish first by 10 seconds. In Qatar, he secured pole and never relinquished the lead, eventually finishing 25 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
Back-to-back victories mean Hamilton has cut the deficit at the top to just eight points. Should he win the final two races of the season, then he will move past Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most world titles.
Drivers battle on track while their bosses bicker on the sidelines
The tension has not been reserved solely for the track though.
Earlier in the season, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said how much he enjoyed winding up his opposite number Toto Wolff, and for a while, it seemed to be working.
At the Brazilian Grand Prix, Wolff was heard saying: “Fuck them all,” to Hamilton on the team radio, while he was also seen shouting aggressively and pointing at TV cameras focused on him when his driver overtook Verstappen for the lead.
Just a week later, however, Wolff appears calmer and it is Horner who seems to be under the pump.
During the Qatar Grand Prix, Verstappen was given a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow down under yellow warning flags during qualifying. Horner was not happy with this and blamed it on a marshal.
The stewards took a dim view of this, officially warning him. Wolff described Horner’s comments as “naughty.”
Horner has also tried his best to halt Mercedes’ progress. The team threatened to protest over Mercedes’ rear wing, claiming it was the secret behind a “hidden” way of boosting the team’s straight-line speed.
Rather than react to the threat of a protest, Wolff has promised more is to come.
The so-called “super engine” that saw Hamilton rise from 10th to win in Brazil was taken out for last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix, but Wolff said it will be back for the next race in Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi should be a good track for us, but we know this year when you think it’s a good one it can turn the other way around,” he told Sky F1.
”But it’s a long straight, we’ll get our spicy equipment out for Saudi Arabia that we didn’t use [in Qatar] and hopefully Valtteri [Bottas] is right up there, we need him. But in any case, if everyone finishes the race it will go to Abu Dhabi.”
While Verstappen still holds the title lead, it could well be that after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Hamilton is either just one or two points behind the Dutchman, or even level.
In that scenario the season finale at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, a track where Hamilton has won five times and Verstappen has won once, will be a straight shootout. Whichever driver finishes ahead of the other will win F1’s greatest prize.
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