Max Verstappen can wrap it up in Qatar but title cruise is bad for F1


It’s been all to easy in 2023 for Max Verstappen (Picture: Getty)

Max Verstappen could, conceivably, win his third Formula One title during Saturday’s sprint race in Qatar, ahead of the grand prix itself.

He leads team-mate Sergio Perez by 177 points, and with six GPs and two sprints to go, there are only 180 points on the table. That means Verstappen only needs three more points.

It’s going to happen, and it’s almost certain to happen this weekend. And if he finishes sixth or higher in the sprint tomorrow, it’s wrapped up.

In so doing, he’ll join Ayrton Senna, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and his girlfriend’s father, Nelson Piquet, as a three-time world champion.

Only Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel have scored more.


In some ways, such a low-key coronation befits a season that’s a been a little dull, with Red Bull winning all but one round so far.

Max’s first title, in 2021, was awarded in the most high-profile and controversial circumstances. His second, though, was a damp squib when the FIA took a long time at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix to determine how many points they were handing out at that shortened rain-affected race.

Lewis Hamilton arrives at the Lusail International Circuit, where he won last time out

Lewis Hamilton arrives at the Lusail International Circuit, where he won last time out (Picture: Getty)

Max probably won’t mind – last time he called the confusion ‘funny’ – but it’s not great for F1’s box office. A significant drop in the sport’s social media growth this year points to a season which has had F1 fans flicking over the channel.

The Lusail international Circuit, located 18 miles north of central Doha, has been completely resurfaced, which means much of the teams’ previous data is void. The only previous grand prix to be held here, in 2021, also featured the previous generation of F1 cars.

So, past form mightn’t mean for much this weekend. Last time Hamilton won from pole, while Verstappen started and finished second.

This time, the other way around is more likely, and expect the resurgent McLarens to be in the mix too.

Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin need a good race in Qatar

Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin need a good race in Qatar (Picture: Getty)

It’s worth noting also that in 2021 Fernando Alonso was third for Alpine. Both Alpine and Aston Martin arrive off the back of three duff races, and could really do with a decent points haul here.

Keeping clear of the new kerbs could be key. Yuki Tsunoda has called them ‘a floor destroyer’ and thinks they’re too aggressive.

‘Here is always a story with track limits,’ said the Alpha Tauri driver. ‘But they made [it] even worse [with] the kerbs because when you go over the white line, you are going to have a proper penalty – which seems like it’s a high risk to the car.’

Bad for the drivers and mechanics, but probably a good thing for the race itself.

FIA to throw weight behind wheel trims

As part of the technical rules refresh for 2026, F1 is considering ditching 18-inch wheels in a bid to reduce weight.

The bigger wheels were introduced last season in order to be more road relevant than the 13in wheels of previous generations of cars.

But with heavier tyres, hybrid motors, energy recovery systems, battery packs, active aerodynamics and the halo safety structure, car weight has ballooned from 585kg in 2008, the year Hamilton won his first world title, to a minimum of 798kg this season, and that poorly affects the handling.

The FIA’s target is to reduce car weight by 50kg, and it’s understood 16in wheels are being considered.

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