The 26-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen, winner of 13 races this year, leads his Red Bull team-mate and only remaining championship rival Sergio Perez by 177 points after 16 rounds of the 22-race season.
Runaway leader Max Verstappen is poised to seal a third consecutive drivers’ world title triumph in Qatar this weekend and may become Formula One’s first ‘Saturday champion’ in four decades.
The 26-year-old Dutchman, winner of 13 races this year, leads his Red Bull team-mate and only remaining championship rival Sergio Perez by 177 points after 16 rounds of the 22-race season.
That luxurious advantage means he only needs to score three points to triumph again and could achieve that, or better, in Saturday’s sprint at the Lusail International Circuit.
Red Bull have won all previous three sprints this season, Perez taking one victory and Verstappen two, a record that makes it likely the newly-crowned constructors’ champions, who clinched that honour for a second successive year at last month’s Japanese Grand Prix, will be favourites again.
Title #3 now loading…⏳@Max33Verstappen just needs to out-score his team mate by three points across the Qatar weekend to be crowned champion for the third time 👑👑👑#QatarGP #F1Sprint pic.twitter.com/SfzsLsRZgc
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 2, 2023
‘It feels good’
“It feels good to be heading into Qatar with the constructors’ championship secured,” said a relaxed Verstappen.
“The track in Qatar is really fun to drive, but it is going to be a tough weekend for all of us as it is so hot.
“The temperatures will make it interesting especially as we have a sprint race this weekend so we need to learn as much as we can from Friday practice ahead of Saturday.
“The drivers’ title can be won on Saturday so that is our main aim and hopefully it will be a weekend to remember.”
If Verstappen clinches the championship again in the sprint, he will be the first Saturday champion since Nelson Piquet, the Brazilian father of his girlfriend Kelly, won the second of his three titles 40 years ago at the 1983 South African Grand Prix.
Four other drivers have won the title on a Saturday – Juan Manuel Fangio (1955), Jack Brabham (1959), Graham Hill (1962) and Keke Rosberg (1982).
After his dominant race victory in Japan, Verstappen will be expected to continue the form that carried him to 10 straight wins before he and Red Bull were beaten in Singapore in mid-September, but rivals Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin will be keen to make life difficult.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, in particular, could shine at the resurfaced circuit where he won the only previous Qatar Grand Prix two years ago in a late-season burst of form that saw him almost succeed in securing an eighth title.
Australian Liam Lawson, who impressed in Japan where he scored two points, will replace compatriot Daniel Ricciardo at Alpha Tauri for the fifth consecutive race as the former Red Bull driver continues to recover from injury.