Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton: The key factors that will decide F1 title race

Lewis Hamilton breathed fresh life into his dreams of securing a record-breaking eighth world championship following a superb victory in Brazil.

The Mercedes driver battled back from 10th on the grid to take one of the most famous wins of his career at Interlagos.

The seven-time champ is now only 14 points behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with three rounds remaining.

A rollercoaster season now heads to the Middle East for a first-ever Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday.

Here, we look at the key factors that might determine the fate of this season’s brilliant title race.

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Experience vs Youth

Hamilton’s 101st career victory moved him 10 clear of Michael Schumacher as the most decorated winner in Formula One history.

With seven championships already under his belt, and a contender in three title deciders in 2007, 2010 and 2016, this season marks the 11th time Hamilton has fought for top honours.

However, despite being in his seventh season, Verstappen, 24, is in the championship mix for the first time. Red Bull might have won consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013, but it is Hamilton’s Mercedes team which has won the past seven drivers’ and constructors’ titles.

Verstappen has shown few signs of cracking under the pressure of fighting for his maiden title but that could change as we reach the business end of the season.

Max power for Hamilton

The wind appeared to be knocked out of Hamilton’s sails after Verstappen’s comprehensive win in Mexico But the British driver was in the form of his life in Interlagos – overcoming a series of penalties to take his sixth win of the campaign.

Powered by a new Mercedes engine, Hamilton finished almost half-a-second clear in qualifying and then overtook 25 drivers in two brilliant comeback drives to keep his title hopes alive – all of this at a venue supposed to suit Verstappen’s Red Bull machinery.

Suddenly the pendulum of momentum has swung back in Hamilton’s direction on what could prove a pivotal weekend in this most absorbing of title races.

Off-track war

The Brazilian GP had all the ingredients of a classic F1 weekend with two great races played out against the backdrop of political warfare between Mercedes and Red Bull.

Hamilton’s Mercedes car was disqualified from qualifying following the smallest of technical infringements. The DSQ came after Red Bull lodged a complaint.

Mercedes were aggrieved that Red Bull were not pulled up for fiddling with Verstappen’s rear wing at previous races, and that Verstappen escaped punishment for running Hamilton off the road on lap 48 of 71.

The feud between the warring teams will continue until the final chequered flag drops in Abu Dhabi.

New venues

Hamilton and Verstappen will renew their rivalry in Doha this weekend for the first Qatar Grand Prix, and then Jeddah, following a week’s break, for the inaugural Saudi Arabian GP.

Both venues are new to the sport’s schedule and the quickest team to master the respective circuits will go a long way to determining whether Hamilton or Verstappen wins the title.

Covid-19

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Hamilton missed last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain after contracting Covid-19 and the Mercedes driver will know that, with a 14-point gap to Verstappen to overcome, a positive test between now and the final round in Abu Dhabi on December 12 will be a knockout blow to his hopes of securing an eighth title.

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