Max Verstappen can win his third straight Formula One title at the Qatar Grand Prix. And he can do it on Saturday.
Verstappen will secure the title if he finishes sixth or higher in the sprint race, which could leave Sunday’s main Grand Prix as something of an afterthought.
Winning the title in a sprint — a 19-lap contest that F1 refuses to call a “race” — could be a little awkward for the series and for Verstappen. He has previously argued the format should be scrapped.
“It’s not proper racing, it’s more like gambling,” he said after the season’s first sprint in Azerbaijan in April. “I think I will have more success in Vegas if I go to the casino. I like racing, I’m a pure racer and I think this is more for the show.”
It’s been a relentlessly dominant season from the Dutch driver, who has had the fastest car with Red Bull but has also left teammate Sergio Perez far behind in the standings.
Perez is the last driver with a mathematical chance of catching Verstappen in the six remaining rounds of the championship, but even if Verstappen crashes out of the sprint race, Perez will need to place in the top three to keep the contest alive.
Perez paid tribute to Verstappen’s achievements Thursday but said the difference in their seasons was in part because developments to the Red Bull car have not suited his own driving style.
“Max has done a tremendous job. I think no credit should be taken away from this season that he has done. I think he has driven on another level compared to anyone else, and that’s something that I have a lot of respect for,” Perez said. “I felt like since Barcelona (the Spanish Grand Prix in June), I was starting to struggle and have some deficits with the car.”
Verstappen hasn’t just been fast, he’s been consistent. When he won his 10th F1 race in a row at the Italian Grand Prix last month, it set a new F1 record. Red Bull has won 16 of the last 17 races going back to the end of last year.
Verstappen told a Red Bull podcast released this week that “you cannot really have off days or off weekends” in F1 and said his entire career since his debut for Toro Rosso in 2015 at the age of 17 has been a process of ironing out mistakes.
“I was very young when I joined Formula One, so naturally you’re lacking a lot of experience. And because of this lack of experience, sometimes you make a few mistakes,” he said. “In a way, you need to make mistakes in life also to become a better driver, a better person, and it’s about how you learn from these kind of things and how you implement the improvements, and I think that’s a continuous process. This is not something that will ever stop. It will only stop once you stop racing. In that sense, it’s about being on that learning curve and trying not to make the same mistake twice.”
ANDRETTI IN FOCUS
The lengthy process to add an 11th team to F1 took a step forward Monday when the governing body, the FIA, said American team Andretti Global meets the criteria to join.
That doesn’t mean Michael Andretti’s team will make the grid. The decision now goes to F1 commercial rights holder Liberty Media. The teams are mostly opposed to adding a new team but don’t have a vote on expansion.
“It’s a good name to have in Formula One, obviously. But at the same time that decision doesn’t really rely on us, so, let’s wait and see,” Perez said.
American driver Logan Sargeant is yet to score a point for Williams and doesn’t have a confirmed contract for 2024, but the team has signaled it is keen to keep him.
“Logan has very clear targets for what he has to hit before the end of the season and we are working with him continuously,” team principal James Vowles said in a video message last week. “We want him to succeed and we want him in the car next year.”
Sargeant crashed out in qualifying and collided with Valtteri Bottas in the race at the last round in Japan, but Vowles said the American was making progress and emphasized he was close to teammate Alex Albon’s performance in Japan.
Speaking Thursday, Albon had warm words for Sargeant too.
“I do think he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. There is a lot of speed and talent within Logan. I think it’s just been a little bit offset with a couple of mistakes that he’s had,” Albon said. “I get on very well with him and I think he just needs a bit more time and confidence and he’ll hook it up there.”
FROM PEDALS TO PADEL
Move over, golf. F1 drivers have a new favorite game.
Padel, often described as a cross between tennis and squash, has become many drivers’ favorite way to get to know each other away from the track and make the most of their limited downtime. Fans include drivers like Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, Jr. and McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
“I think golf is out the window for most of the drivers out in the paddock,” Mercedes’ George Russell said. “It’s just a great sport and it’s good to get together and have a bit of a game before the race.”
There are still some notable golfers in F1, though. Since the last race in Japan, Sainz joined tennis star Novak Djokovic and ex-soccer players Gareth Bale and Andriy Shevchenko for an All-Star golf game last week in Italy as part of the build-up to the Ryder Cup.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing