Momentum is everything, but even so, Max Verstappen can still beat a red hot Lewis Hamilton to the Formula 1 world championship this weekend.
The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix staged on a brand-new high-speed street circuit hosts the championship’s penultimate round.
Only Verstappen and Hamilton can mathematically win this year’s title.
For Verstappen, it would be his first, and he’ll end Mercedes’ unconquered dominance of the turbo-hybrid era.
If Hamilton can catch and pass Verstappen in the standings, the Brit will move one world title ahead of Michael Schumacher with an unprecedented eight championships.
Hamilton cannot win the title this weekend, but Verstappen can.
If Verstappen wins the race and Hamilton finishes outside the top six, the Red Bull driver is champion.
Street circuits can often trip up even the best of drivers. Verstappen can finish second and be crowned champion if Hamilton does not score.
If Verstappen also achieves the fastest lap bonus point, his push for the championship becomes slightly easier.
In saying that, Hamilton is in beast mode right now. He has won the last two Grands Prix, and his latest win in Qatar was one of pure dominance.
Verstappen has been largely consistent as well, with six straight podiums (four P2s and two wins).
Hamilton was fastest in the first two Free Practice sessions, albeit only fractionally quicker than the Red Bulls.
Despite having 27 corners, 79 per cent of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is taken at full throttle.
On paper, the circuit should favour Mercedes’ sheer engine speed.
But Red Bull are pleasantly surprised by how much the track also rewards a balanced aerodynamic package.
“The corners are a little bit tighter, so it’s not all the emphasis on horsepower that we thought it would be. That’s encouraging,” Red Bull’s Christian Horner said.
Qualifying simulations done during Friday’s three hours of practice suggests Red Bull holds a slight edge over Mercedes. But it is the Silver Arrows ahead on race pace.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix begins at 6.30 am NZT on Monday, December 6.