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The Briton takes momentum from a dominant win in Qatar with the gap to the Belgian-Dutch driver now just eight points with just two races left
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Lewis Hamilton is chasing down Max Verstappen at the top of the Formula 1 standings, just eight points behind after winning the Qatar Grand Prix – his second straight victory following a huge performance in Brazil.
Just over a week remains until the next race, with the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix being the penultimate one of the season – then it’s off to Yas Marina in the United Arab Emirates. The long straights will unquestionably favour the Mercedes cars over those of Red Bull, especially with Toto Wolff revealing Hamilton will get his newest “spicy” engine back in the car in Jeddah.
Wolff and his Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner have been involved in back-and-forth encounters too, drawing amusement from some and disdain from others, as the fight goes on for the constructor championship as well as the drivers’ title. Elsewhere outside the big two, Fernando Alonso’s podium finish, the changing team line-ups for next year and even the additions of rules such as sprint qualifying have all been big talking points in Formula One recently.
Here’s all the latest F1 news and reaction as the build-up to Saudi Arabia continues:
Lewis Hamilton is set to gain a “boost” over title rival Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.
That’s due to Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin, who says: “It is another unknown and we have seen pretty big swings of performance over the recent races.
“Now, if we look at the track in Saudi, I think it should suit us. For Lewis, we have got the more powerful engine to go in the car so that is going to give him a useful boost.”
Lewis Hamilton feels he has to be the more intelligent driver to triumph when it comes to the regular clashes he and Max Verstappen have shared on the track this season. Talking to BBC Sport, he explained that he has backed out of certain moments when attempting to overtake, depending on who has the inside lane and how he judges his rival’s intentions.
“If you’re on the outside of a car, backing out is the sensible option pretty much all the time in order to see the end of the race,” he said. “If you’re on the inside, there are scenarios where I truly believe I was in the right, [when] I’m almost wheel to wheel with the car.
“At Silverstone, for example. Go and look at the footage. My front wheel was alongside his front wheel, so it wasn’t like my wheel was next to his rear wheel going in.
“And in that scenario, if I had taken the approach [Verstappen did] for example [in Brazil], just stayed on the gas and gone off track and then kept position, what would the scenario have been there? Would they have looked into the rules there?
“But anyways. I don’t mind being the one that… I am not too big or too successful to have to back out to fight another day. I know that is sometimes the route you have to take. You have to be the smarter one.”
Helmut Marko says Red Bull are not afraid of Mercedes’ speed in Saudi Arabia.
“Mercedes will be using the rocket motor from Brazil in Saudi Arabia again,” he said, but “because you can no longer lower the spoiler, it will no longer bring an advantage of 0.4 seconds.
“We saw in Qatar that Hamilton’s speed advantage on the straights in Qatar was no longer that great and was more or less within the normal range.
“This is due to the fact that after more stringent tests by the FIA, Mercedes no longer used its extremely flexible rear wing.”
“It would mean a lot, for sure,” said Alonso, who finished on the podium in Qatar, while appearing on the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“But I don’t know, it’s not that I’m desperate to get it and that it would change my whole career or change my way of seeing the sport.
“I’m a competitive person in everything I do, so I’m really looking forward to a third championship and I will do what is in my hands and even more in the next coming years.
“It would mean a lot in terms of maybe a legacy after my career finishes in Formula 1, of how to always push to the limit, always try to find excellence on things you do, having a very high discipline in the way you do races, in the way you approach racing.
“It doesn’t matter if you are 19, it doesn’t matter if you are 42 or 43, it’s a way of living and a full dedication to the sport.
“That probably is the biggest thing if I win a third championship, that kind of legacy and message for future generations.”
Former F1 driver Marc Surer says there are no guarantees that Mercedes will be quicker than Red Bull in Saudi Arabia.
“How often did we think in advance that a track would be better for Mercedes or better for Red Bull?” Surer asked F1-Insider.com. “And then it was exactly the other way around.
“If that’s the case again in Saudi Arabia, then Red Bull would be the favourites.”
Circuit designed Hermann Tilke backed up Surer’s view, saying that although Mercedes may have a more powerful engine, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a clear advantage.
“A powerful engine helps,” said the F1 circuit designer, “but it’s not just straight ahead. There are a few fast corners that, with the right set-up, could give the Red Bull an advantage.
“It is also a street circuit, so often separate laws apply.”
The Saudi Arabia Grand Prix presents a fascinating test for the drivers. It will be extremely fast with top speeds expected at 322km/h, and an average speed of 252.8km/h.
Only Monza is faster on this year’s schedule. The construction required 37,000 tonnes of asphalt put down, with seven grand stands to pack in F1 fanatics.
It will be a night race of course, too, which sees lighting levels of 1,500 lux and a staggering 20,000 metres of electric cabling.
Valtteri Bottas has queried the timing of Totto Wolff’s “hurry up” call during last week’s race in Qatar.
After the Finn endured a miserable start to the GP, dropping five places as he struggled with tyre temperature and wheel-spin, Wolff said over the radio: “Come on Valtteri, get these cars.”
Bottas, though, said the message had taken him by surprise, but conceded he understood why Wolff had felt the need to encourage, considering the tense race in the constructors’ championship.
“It’s normal. He’s living in the moment,” said the 32-year-old, who is leaving Mercedes at the end of this season. “It’s while I was trying to make a move. It was surprising then when I get the [message]…maybe the timing was not right, but no problem.”
“I think you’ll find, and there was some wise words about those that operated under a permanent stewards panel, thought that there was perceived bias when there was a permanent steward,” Masi said, according to Speedcafe.
“I think the stewarding that we have now with the pool of four chairmen, that we shared the pool of driver, stewards, and all of that, the way all the chairmen meet regularly…
“We need to take a step back and remember that’s it’s the first time in a long time we are in a real championship fight between two amazing drivers, two fantastic teams.
“As a regulator, last time I saw, there’s no regulator in the world that’s going to be popular.
“Regardless if you’re a referee, if you’re a regulator of any sport, that’s part of the role that we fulfil, and from our perspective there will always be slight differences but, at the end of the day, the stewards are there to make those [decisions].”
Max Verstappen has been compared to former F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen by the president of the FIA, Jean Todt.
“Max is a bit like Kimi,” Todt told RaceFans, referring to the famously ice cool Fin who won the world title for Ferrari in 2007 and now drives for Alfa Romeo Racing. “Very straightforward, very talented and they have limited interest and they focus on it. Indifferent.”
Read the full story:
Verstappen leads the standings by eight points
“The first time it’s 10 places back and after that it’s five, and I find that a bit illogical,” he explained.
“If you keep taking engine penalties, I think it should just stay the same [number of grid places], because you’re going over the same limit all the time.
“Yes, that’s something that could be looked at, because in Brazil, you clearly saw that the rest of the teams didn’t have a chance to do anything against us [Red Bull and Mercedes].
“So a penalty like that [five places] is not really that big of a deal.”
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