With both the drivers and constructors’ titles sealed, Formula One embarked on a triple-header in the Americas with races in the USA, Mexico City and Brazil. It might look like the 2023 season is hopping from one place to another without a context. However, as the last three weekends have shown, there are enough intriguing battles still left.
While the big prize in F1 is the driver’s title, it is the constructors’ standings that determine how the prize money is distributed among teams.
In that sense, the race between Mercedes and Ferrari for second in the standings will go down the wire, with the former ahead by just 20 points. Further down, Williams, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas are locked in a fight for the last four positions in the constructors’ title, with just 16 points separating the four teams. Each place is worth tens of millions of dollars. This battle has seen a massive change in fortunes for AlphaTauri as it moved from tenth to eighth in the last three rounds, with Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda banking some valuable points.
However, the most significant competitive fight for positions is between Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton as they try to finish second in the driver’s standings.
Two of the three events — USA and Brazil — were Sprint weekends, with an extra Sprint race on Saturdays. As it has been for the whole season, Max Verstappen ticked off everything in his sight, winning all three races, including the sprint events. While he had to work a bit in Austin, Texas, the other two weekends were relatively straightforward for the 2023 champion. En route to his third title, which he sealed in Qatar, Verstappen broke numerous records as he amassed race wins for fun.
The only thing he had left was for the most wins in a year — incidentally, a record he held after climbing the top step 15 times last year. With the hat-trick of wins in the Americas, Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 races, with two more to go in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi.
With the three-time champion sailing into the distance, all eyes were on his teammate Perez. The fight between Perez and Hamilton is a microcosm of how well they have driven this year.
Perez, with the best car on the grid at his disposal, is struggling to nail the second place and has been poor for most of the season. At the same time, Hamilton has maximised his car’s potential and beaten his teammate George Russell comprehensively.
So when Hamilton finished second on the road in Austin, it seemed the fight would go down to the last race as he came within 20 points of Perez. But later, Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc were disqualified from the race after the post-race checks revealed their cars’ floor planks had worn more than the tolerance level allowed by the regulations. It helped Perez move up a place to fourth, and he held a 39-point lead.
At the following race in Mexico, the local hero got a brilliant start but, in his overzealousness, tried to win it all in the first corner and collided with Leclerc and retired within seconds of the race start, much to the disappointment of the sell-out crowd. To add salt to the wounds, his chief rival Hamilton fought back strongly, taking second in Perez’s home ground, narrowing the points gap.
While on the face of it, it doesn’t matter who finished second or third in the driver’s standings, Red Bull Racing has never had its drivers finish the year 1-2 in the championship. It is something team boss Christian Horner wants to achieve this year, considering the dominant machinery at their disposal.
Thankfully, Perez and Red Bull had one of their best outings in recent times at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, with the driver finishing fourth well ahead of Hamilton, whose Mercedes car struggled. Perez scored a third in the Sprint race and was on course to finish third in the Grand Prix before Fernando Alonso, whose Aston Martin too found some speed, managed to nick it on the last lap with a sensational overtake.
Perez now leads Hamilton by 32 points and can seal second place if he can continue the form he has shown recently. In a year in which his stock has nosedived to an all-time low, having got less than half the points of his teammate, to end up as vice-champion can be the balm that soothes the pain and helps him come back strongly next year.
Meanwhile, Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin continued to trade blows in their see-saw fight for the rider’s crown, with the latter winning both the Sprint and main race in Thailand and narrowing the gap to the former. Bagnaia, the defending champion, had a poor outing in the Sprint race, finishing seventh before making a better effort on Sunday to take second place for the factory Ducati team. It was a welcome return to form for Martin after two poor outings in Indonesia and Australia, where he lost a lot of ground to his chief rival. With just three races to go, Bagnaia holds a slender 13-point lead and will need to be more clinical, considering if he wants to defend his crown.
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