It wasn’t the perfect way to find out, but in Japan Max Verstappen was crowned world champion. It brings to a close a one-sided title battle but with four races still to go, the drama and excitement is far from over. Here’s what is still worth keeping an eye on as we head to the United States.
Best of the rest
Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc are now separated by just a point in the race for second place after the Ferrari driver ran wide on the final corner in Japan. It’s not the battle Ferrari would have wanted to be in at the start of the season, while for Red Bull, having the top two drivers is now a priority to show off their dominance. All signs point to it being a two-horse race for second place, but mathematically a couple of other drivers are still involved.
George Russell and Carlos Sainz are 50 points further back and if Mercedes can string together a few good results, it would be a bright end to the season. Sainz will want to close the gap on his teammate ahead of next season while if Russell can finish above Lewis Hamilton, that will be a huge achievement for him.
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Can Mercedes bag that elusive win?
Verstappen has now won two world titles since Hamilton won a single race. That’s how disastrous the 2022 season has been for Mercedes. Despite Russell’s consistency, neither of the two Brits have been able to get on the top of the podium this season. Mercedes haven’t gone an entire season without a win since 2011 and now they have just four races left this campaign.
But it doesn’t look likely. Even though they have slowly improved as the season has progressed, they are still a fair distance away from the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes. Just because Verstappen has won the title doesn’t mean he will take his foot off the pedal, and he has been pretty unbeatable this term. The USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix also don’t seem to suit this Mercedes car as some of the other tracks have. It looks like a barren season is inevitable.
McLaren vs Alpine
The best battle to watch over the remaining races has to be the fascinating fight that has been taking place all season between Alpine and McLaren. The ding-dong battle between the two teams for that all-important fourth place currently sees Alpine hold a 13-point lead in the Constructors' Championship.
Lando Norris has now broken the 100 point barrier and leads the way as an individual driver from both of these teams, but departing teammate Daniel Ricciardo has failed to deliver with just 29 points. It has been Alpine's consistency that has taken them above the British manufacturers, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon sharing the workload.
There is real needle between these two, especially when you consider what happened with Oscar Piastri. Alpine announced that their reserve driver would take Fernando Alonso’s seat for 2023, only for the Australian to deny those claims. It turned out he had already agreed to join McLaren and after a tussle that involved the Contract Recognition Board, Piastri was confirmed as a McLaren driver. So with that to come in 2023, this really matters.
Red Bull are going to win the Constructors' Championship, that is a near certainty, but it isn’t quite mathematically done yet. Christian Horner’s team are 165 points ahead of Ferrari and that total needs to exceed 147 points by the time they leave the Circuit of the Americas. Between Verstappen and Perez, that should be doable, and then the celebrations can really begin.