BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 12: Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Great Britain during Day One of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 12, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
Formula 1 | F1 2021 | Saudi Arabian Grand Prix preview | D-day for Hamilton in Jeddah
Formula 1 rolls into the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend
Two races remain of the season, with Max Verstappen leading Lewis Hamilton by eight points in standings
Dutchman can seal first F1 title with victory, if Hamilton fails to finish P5 or better
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – As the Formula 1 season approaches its finale, can Lewis Hamilton take the title race down to the wire at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?
F1 approaches desert climax
After the first leg of Formula 1’s desert finale in Qatar a fortnight ago, just two races of the 2021 campaign remain as Jeddah Corniche Circuit plays host to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend.
On the heels of Losail’s inaugural bow in Qatar, next up, the second-largest city in the Arab nation welcomes F1 for the first time and at the most pivotal of avenues.
Set to become a regular at the back end of the season, the Saudi Arabian GP will be the fifth night race this term and is the second-longest track on the calendar – only Spa is now further in distance.
Named after the waterfront ‘Corniche’ in the Red Sea port city it was built around, F1’s newest track is also set to become one of the fastest.
Though most are expecting a red-hot track, just who conditions and indeed the track itself might favour remain uncertain, throwing another spicy element to a mixer that is boiling under, as fans anticipate a frenzied conclusion to a classic season.
History awaits in Jeddah
It is not just a social media hashtag for the weekend in Jeddah; the Saudi Arabia GP could become a memorable stop for more than one reason.
Not only is it the first trip around a track which is expected to bring speeds in excess of 16omph, it will also become the fastest street circuit on the calendar and with the added spice of the desert evening added.
From Hamilton’s perspective, history cannot be made, but a third win on the bounce for the Stevenage driver – and a fastest lap time – could see both Hamilton and Verstappen tied on points going into Abu Dhabi’s traditional showpiece denouement next weekend.
For that to transpire after 21 races, would be quite remarkable and set the ultimate in precedent.
On the other side of the story of course lies the the man from Hasselt, who could not only seal his first F1 title, but become the first man from either the Netherlands or his native Belgium to be crowned world champion.
On either two wheels or four, only Stephane Mertens in World Superbikes comes even remotely close with 11 race wins over the course of six years between 1988 and 1994.
Victory for Verstappen, coupled with Hamilton’s failure to finish well on Sunday, will leave the Dutchman at the top of the mountain and out on his own plain. Relatively speaking.
There are many factors in play that could decide the F1 title in Jeddah, most of which leave the championship delicately poised.
Simply put, if Verstappen wins the Saudi Arabian GP with the fastest lap time and Hamilton does not finish fifth or better, Red Bull will be celebrating come Sunday evening.
Should Verstappen take the chequered flag without the bonus point, a Hamilton P7 will also seal the title for Verstappen.
If Verstappen comes home runner-up with the fastest lap meanwhile, only then would the Briton’s classification in 10th or lower be decisive, whilst P2 for Verstappen with Hamilton failing to score would also result in the Dutchman being crowned champ.
If however, Hamilton wins in the desert once more, the picture will be looking very, very interesting.
Gunning for victory in ‘toughest battle’
So, despite having won the last two races and in the midst of the latest momentum shift this term with Mercedes having hit upon their best set-up of perhaps the entire season, Hamilton remains up against it.
So much so, that should race results go against him this weekend, the seven-time world champion could be dethroned from the same F1 perch he has ruled over since 2017.
Last denied the crown by Mercedes ‘team-mate’ Nico Rosberg five years ago, not only losing the chance of a fifth-straight title would be a sore point, but the biggest regret would be his chance to stand alone on eight championships and jump ahead of Michael Schumacher – another one of which might not be easy to come with new regs coming into effect from March.
Having gone toe-to-toe with his dogged rival for much of the season, the 2021 title race will go down as one of the truest duels in the history of motorsport, one in which Hamilton is still desperate to come out on top.
As Verstappen experiences the pressures of expectation for the first time, the same cannot be said of Hamilton though, who as he told F1.com is feeling calm ahead of the season’s final chapter over the coming nine days in the Middle East:
“I’m excited to be getting in the car, I’m very grateful we have these two races to fight it ou. The team’s working as hard as it can, I feel great.
“There’s a couple of bits that are different [in this title fight], in one sense because we’ve got two incredibly close teams. It’s different because we’re fighting for unchartered territory, no one has ever won eight drivers’ titles or teams’, so that’s new.”
As Hamilton added also after being asked whether winning the title and setting history would be his most significant one of his previous seven – aside from the obvious historical milestones – the Briton was fairly clear in his assertions:
“It’s been the toughest battle that the sport has seen for a long, long time, and the most challenging, so I think collectively it would be. Plus we’re in a pandemic, so all sorts of things we’ve been faced with.”
After a season with more see-saws than a children’s playground, what will the final two races have in store? One thing is fairly certain; whatever happens in Jeddah this weekend, it will be fun finding out.
The 2021 Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place this weekend at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
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