Home Sport Sunday showdown: Who will be crowned champion?

Sunday showdown: Who will be crowned champion?

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Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen (left) congratulates Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton after he won the Portuguese Formula One Grand Prix race at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao on May 2, 2021.Picture: Gabriel Bouys, POOL via AFP

So, what are the top five factors to keep in mind during this most exciting of F1 seasons?

IN THE closest title race since 1974, Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen head into the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP with everything on the line.

Here, Morgan Bolton looks counts down the five factors to keep in mind during this most exciting of F1 seasons.

5. Kimi, my guy

This will be the Iceman’s final race as he retires from F1. In a career spanning 20 years, Kimi Raikkonen participated in 352 races – a record – winning 21 and finishing on the podium 103 times.

The 42-year-old leaves the sport as a former World Champion, claiming the title in 2007 with Ferrari by one point over Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren in a memorable title race.

Raikkonen will be remembered for his stoic demeanour, calmness and blunt manner, which has somehow endeared him to supporters worldwide.

Case in point, when once asked to give his thoughts on the Yas Marina circuit, the Finn stated: “Well, the first few turns are quite good, but the rest of it is s***.”

4. Tweak me there tweak me here

The layout of the circuit has undergone slight modification this year, which could have quite an impact on the race in an effort to liven it up a bit.

The chicane before the hairpin that leads onto the first back-straight (Turn 5) has been removed and widened. It is expected that drivers will reach this section, the first DRS zone, at 300km/h.

The Masa complex of 90° corners at the end of the second back-straight (Turn 9) has also been done away with and replaced with a banked hairpin, while further down the track Hotel Corner has been widened to allow cars to follow each other better. The number of corners has been reduced from 21 to 16 in all and the track length shortened to 5.28km.

3. Money maker

Along with the more prestigious world drivers’ championship title, the more lucrative constructors’ title will also be decided at the season-ending race.

Mercedes have pretty much stitched up their eighth crown. They lead Red Bull by 28 points; and with only 44 maximum points available, only have to score 17 points – which equates to finishing at least fifth and sixth.

Ferrari, meanwhile, have all but secured third ahead of McLaren, who will have to collect at least 39 points to outscore the Scuderia. Finally, it seems set in stone that Alpine will finish fifth in the Constructors’ race as they are 29 points ahead of AlphaTauri.

2. Back to the business end

The permutations between Verstappen and Hamilton are simple.

Both are equal on 369.5 points but the Dutchman holds the slightest of advantages due to leading the Brit in race victories – 9-8. The defending world champion must simply outscore the Red Bull.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen overtakes Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at the start of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix race at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2021 in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona. Picture: Javier Soriano, AFP

There is a more complicated outcome, which would honestly be an insane finish to the season: If Verstappen finishes ninth and Hamilton 10th with the fastest lap, or Verstappen finishes 10th with the fastest lap and Hamilton ninth; then they will end on the same amount of points. In this scenario Verstappen will be crowned champion due to winning more races.

If both Hamilton and Verstappen fail to finish the race – and there is a strong possibility it could be through a collision – then the 25-year-old will also win the title.

1. Only the brave

Tracks have played an important part in deciding the outcome of the season. Debates have permeated throughout the year regarding which circuit will be advantageous to which team, and in some instances every known quantity has been proven incorrect as both Mercedes and Red Bull have managed to flip the narrative to their favour.

At first glance, one could easily argue that Yas Marina is a Silver Arrows track. Since its inaugural race in 2009, Mercedes have won seven events, while Red Bull have won four, the last of which was last year. There were mitigating factors when Verstappen stormed to victory in 2020 – Hamilton had just recovered from Covid-19, while both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles had been already won by Mercedes.

The circuit has a mixture of low-drag sectors, specifically the first two sections, while the final sector rewards cars that are more inclined towards downforce set-ups. It is not a pure power-track, so Mercedes won’t be able to use all the horse-power at their disposal. They will probably be quicker in sector 1 and 2, but will drop off the pace in the more corner-heavy sector 3.

Overtaking won’t be easy, so track position and strategy will be important. If Verstappen can get ahead of Hamilton, and run a flawless race, he will have an excellent chance to take the title. Qualifying will be key, as will the launch on race day into Turn 1.

As shown in Jeddah, Verstappen is more than capable of keeping Hamilton at bay, and he will need all his mental faculties – despite a wobble last weekend – and physical capabilities to ward off the faster and more powerful Silver Arrows.

If you were a betting man or woman, however, then surely you’d place your chips on Hamilton. The Brit is in better form, is enjoying his W12 car, and has the psychological edge over his rival.

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