Despite having failed to win his second World Championship at the recent Singapore Grand Prix, Max Verstappen will have his second chance to become a double World Champion this weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix.
To retain his 2021 title, Verstappen needs to outscore Charles Leclerc by six points and team-mate Sergio Pérez by eight, thanks to boasting a 104-point lead over the Ferrari driver.
Singapore proved to be one of Verstappen’s weakest weekends of the season, mainly down to being forced to abort his final Q3 lap in qualifying.
Red Bull under-fuelled the championship leader’s RB18, meaning that had he completed his final lap at the Marina Bay Circuit he would’ve been unable to provide a necessary fuel sample.
Failing to provide a fuel sample results in disqualification from the session, which would’ve seen the 25-year-old start last.
Starting P8 proved difficult for the Dutchman at Singapore, in what were challenging wet conditions.
Multiple-near collisions and a huge lock-up, saw the reigning World Champion cross the line in P7, in what ended up being somewhat damage limitation for him.
Pérez and Leclerc claiming first and second sort of summed up the year, as the duo actually made the most of Verstappen having a bad result.
It’s still too little too late for the pair, who need a miracle to claw back over 100 points.
His bad weekend has actually made it more likely that the championship will be wrapped up at the United States Grand Prix in two weeks, rather than at Honda’s home race.
Given that Pérez and Leclerc both finish in the points on Sunday, then the only way Verstappen can win the title is to win the race with the fastest lap.
If he does so, then he’ll become the first World Champion of the new aerodynamic era, meaning he’ll have won a title across two different generations of the Championship.
41-year-old double World Champion Fernando Alonso has hailed Verstappen for having a skillset and adaptability that simply can’t be taught, with the Spaniard believing that it shouldn’t be a “surprise” that the Dutch driver has flown his way to a second crown.
“You cannot teach that,” said Alonso.
“It has to come from yourself.
“There are drivers that need more time, they need to study more data, they need all of Friday to analyse and compare with a team-mate and slowly make little steps until they are 100 per cent ready for quali.
“And there are others that are 100 per cent in FP1. Max is one of those and he has always been like that, from go-karts to now, so it should not be a surprise to anyone.”
Whilst the Alpine driver is certain that Verstappen is unbelievably talented, he doesn’t think the Dutchman has been challenged this season.
A number of strategic errors and reliability problems ruled Leclerc out of the title fairly quickly, despite having led the series by 46 points after the first three races.
Pérez has also been too inconsistent to fight for the title, with his performance at the Singapore GP not appearing regularly enough to win a World Championship.
Alonso doesn’t think it’s been a “fight” for Verstappen, who in his eyes has been “outstanding”.
“It was not a fight,” added Alonso.
“It’s an important season because we changed the regulations massively so it’s going to always be remembered for this new generation of cars.
“Ferrari had a very, very fast car but Red Bull and Max have been outstanding.
“There was not a fight because Red Bull and Max were better than the others, even though they didn’t have that superior car because I guess the Ferrari is the same or better.”