It probably sums up the 2023 Formula 1 season that Max Verstappen is highly likely to wrap up the title this Saturday at the Qatar Grand Prix in the Sprint Race.
To say the season has been predictable would be an understatement. However, that shows how dominant Verstappen and Red Bull have been, so hats off to them and the records they have set, or will set.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup meant there was no Qatar GP last year, but the country will host an F1 race until 2032, after signing a 10-year deal.
For the first time, Qatar will almost certainly be the destination for where the drivers’ championship is decided and you can expect a similar narrative to what happened last time out at Suzuka.
How can Verstappen win the 2023 F1 championship?
Ram this into your heads. There is a very good chance Verstappen will be champion on Saturday because it’s a Sprint weekend. This was one of the fears when the Sprint format was introduced in 2021 and it has come to fruition – not that Red Bull or Verstappen care.
If Verstappen finishes sixth, he is champion – no matter what teammate Sergio Perez does. Perez comes into Qatar 177 points behind Verstappen and needs to be 171 points or less off the Dutchman after the Sprint Race.
If Verstappen doesn’t finish in the top six on Saturday, these are the other ways he can seal the title:
|Max Verstappen||Sergio Perez|
|7th||2nd or lower|
|8th||3rd or lower|
|9th or lower||4th or lower|
“When you look back at your career you will appreciate it even more,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1. “Now, you are so focused on performance and results, you maybe sometimes don’t even appreciate the moment. I try to.
“But I don’t think you ever fully appreciate it until you stop. It’s amazing but you can’t achieve these things without an amazing team behind you, so we just try to enjoy the moment.”
Similar to Suzuka
Verstappen and Red Bull will be very difficult to beat, although the jeopardy a Sprint weekend brings with just one practice session could be an issue.
The Losail International Circuit is nearly all high and medium speed corners so McLaren should be Red Bull‘s closest challengers again.
Another factor to keep in mind is the only practice session will be held in the day, when qualifying, the sprint race and the Grand Prix will all be at night.
Parc ferme begins as soon as you roll your car out for qualifying, so it’s going to be far from straightforward, even for Red Bull this weekend.
“Conditions of the track are going to be very different and it’s going to be an interesting weekend, with FP1 and then straight into qualifying,” Perez told the press.
“We will probably find three seconds slower track in FP1 with all the sand on it. So, it will be an interesting one, also going into the night for qualifying. I do expect a very interesting weekend overall.”
Norris’ first win?
Maybe if Verstappen celebrates his championship win on Saturday too much, Lando Norris can get him on the run down to Turn 1 this Sunday.
On a more serious note, McLaren should be mighty in the high-speed corners and it will be fascinating to see how they cope with more expectation and weight on their shoulders.
“We had a very successful race in Japan with another P2 for me and a double podium for the team,” said Norris. “The car had strong pace, which is encouraging as we go into the final seven races of the season.
“It’s another Sprint race weekend, so more opportunity for points. This is only the second time we’re racing at the Losail International Circuit, so we will have to learn as much as we can from the Friday practice session.
“I’ve been back at the MTC with the engineers in preparation over the last two weeks. We’ll look to extract the maximum from the car and hopefully bring home some more points.”
Lawson’s last chance to shine
Liam Lawson should be on the grid in 2024 but is likely set for a year on the sidelines as Red Bull and AlphaTauri reserve driver. Daniel Ricciardo FaceTimed him to confirm he will miss Qatar and is expected to be back for the United States GP on October 20-22.
Lawson has been stellar and realistically couldn’t have done too much more after being thrown straight into the deep end at Zandvoort and scoring points in Singapore, having never driven there before.
The Losail International Circuit is another new track for him and it would be great if he can go out on a high to remind people, he should have a full-time F1 seat.
“I think it’s going to be quite tough,” said Lawson. “Obviously my first Sprint weekend, we have less practice time.
“It’s the same for everybody but obviously I haven’t been here before so I think it’s going to be different. But I’m excited to at least experiences a Sprint weekend before I step back again.”
Andretti splitting the paddock
And we finish off our look ahead to the weekend with an off-track topic – Andretti. The FIA have approved their entry but F1‘s stakeholders themselves still need to give the green light.
This is a process that will take months and there will be a lot of negotiating and debate about whether an 11th team should be allowed on the grid. The majority of teams are not in favour of it Total-Motorsport.com understands.
But, if Andretti can’t get onto the grid, who can? F1 will be showing itself to be a closed-shop and that’s absolutely not right.
Lewis Hamilton, who is still looking to end his winless run of nearly two years, says it would be “great” but teammate George Russell wasn’t as clear cut.
“I think Formula 1’s the pinnacle and we want to see quality competition so I’m not for, I’m not against,” said Russell.
“But definitely if there were to be an extra team it’s got to be a quality outfit, one that can add to the sport.
“We want to see competition, in an ideal world you want to see all ten teams fighting against one another. So I’m sure F1 will come to the best conclusion and answer whatever it may be, but we’ve got to have quality over quantity. But as I said, I don’t feel strongly.”