Max Verstappen is the red-hot favourite to clinch his third straight championship at next month’s Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix, and he might not even have to wait for the race itself if he gets the job done in Saturday’s (October 7) sprint.
Following his 13th victory of the 2023 season at Suzuka Grand Prix, which put the Red Bull driver’s away to wins away from equalling his record for most wins in a single season, moved Verstappen 177 points away from team-mate Sergio Perez in the standings.
The Mexican driver last outscored his team-mate in the fourth round of the campaign in Azerbaijan, where Perez clinched the second of his two wins so far in 2023. Since then, Verstappen has done nothing but increase his championship lead, taking a record-breaking 10 victories in a row, a streak that only ended in Singapore earlier this month, when Carlos Sainz won for Ferrari.
Verstappen’s win in Japan, where Perez had a nightmare race and retired, left the Dutchman with 400 points scored to his team-mate's 223. With 180 points available in the remaining six races, Verstappen's 177-point advantage means he needs to score just three more points before the season ends to wrap up his third consecutive title.
The Qatar Grand Prix, is the first of two consecutive sprint weekends in a row, meaning a maximum of 34 points will be available for a driver who wins the sprint and Sunday’s races and secures the fastest lap in the main event.
But even a perfect weekend won’t help Perez’s cause, as Verstappen will be champion if he leaves Qatar with a 146-point gap. Regardless of what Perez does on Saturday, Verstappen will be crowned by finishing sixth in the F1 sprint.
In order to keep his championship 'hopes' alive going into Sunday’s (October 8) race, Perez needs at least a third-place finish in the sprint, regardless of Verstappen’s result.
In the worst-case scenario for Verstappen, with Perez winning on Saturday and him failing to score, the two-time champion will be crowned with an eighth-place finish on Sunday, regardless of his team-mate's result.
Perez, in contrast, needs to win Sunday's race in order to delay Verstappen's celebrations. Any other result will not be enough for the Mexican. Should Perez tie Verstappen’s points tally, the latter would still be champion based on the amount of victories scored.
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