Max Verstappen is hoping to avoid any ‘sprint weekend heartache’ and move within sight, if not reach, of claiming the Formula One world championship at this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
After winning last Sunday’s Mexican race, Red Bull’s series leader has a 19-point advantage ahead of defending seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, but he knows that lead can be overturned if he fails to finish.
He knows, too, that at the last two events where a Saturday sprint race was included, the embattled pair collided in the main contest and he was unable to continue, or score any points.
At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July, their high-speed opening lap collision resulted in Verstappen crashing out and being taken to hospital for observation while Hamilton claimed victory for Mercedes.
In Italy, two months later, they tangled again with Verstappen’s car climbing across the trapped Hamilton’s cockpit. Both were eliminated and the bad feelings between the teams following the first crash were revived in more acrimonious exchanges.
“It’s difficult to say how competitive we are going to be in Brazil," said the Dutchman.
“We won in 2019, but it was a close battle all the way and I expect something similar this time.
“It’s also a sprint race weekend…. I tend to do well in the sprint, but then I get bad race results so this time let’s try and turn it around.”
The sprawling Interlagos circuit, with its undulating track and dipping and bucking corners, has a history of incident-filled and dramatic races and is often run in very warm, humid and demanding conditions that test cars, drivers and their tempers to their limits.
Verstappen won last time the race was run in 2019 and Hamilton in 2016 and 2018, but for the Briton it has not been a particularly happy hunting ground over the years although he claimed an emotional maiden title triumph by securing a last-gasp fifth place in 2008.
‘Down to the wire’
Following last weekend’s resounding defeat, Hamilton needs a dose of the youthful vim he demonstrated then to halt Verstappen’s run of four consecutive wins to re-boot his fading title defence.
He will need ‘silver arrows’ team-mate Valtteri Bottas to deliver something special too after taking pole last weekend, but failing to exploit it when he allowed Verstappen to sweep around him at turn one and go from third to first.
That led to Red Bull’s first-and-third result to move them within a point of Mercedes in the constructors’ championship, a title the champion team has held for seven years.
For team boss Toto Wolff, it is his first major challenge after a run of unbroken success.
“We’ll be throwing everything we’ve got at the Brazilian Grand Prix and the races beyond," he declared.
“We’re privileged to still be in the fight so late in the season and expect these titles to go right down to the wire with both teams fighting hard to the very last lap.
“We’ve got some catching up to do and know it’ll be an intense battle, but we’ll continue to push hard and keep our eyes firmly set on the end goal."
His and Hamilton’s experience could yet be a telling factor, but as the F1 circus prepares for the second of three consecutive races in an exhausting triple-header it may be the hunger and youth of Red Bull and Verstappen, 12 years the junior, that prevails.
“The best thing about a triple-header is you don’t have to wait long for a new opportunity to get the positive momentum back," said Wolff.
“We’re excited to be returning to Brazil, the fans are so passionate and Interlagos is such an iconic circuit.
“It’s not been our strongest track in recent seasons and has tended to suit Red Bull, but this year has proved anything can happen.”
Hamilton also issued a rallying cry after charging Bottas for “leaving the door open" in Mexico. “We are a team — and we win and we lose as a team,” he said. “On to the next one Valtteri. Let’s keep pushing bro’.”