Lewis Hamilton will go into the crucial penultimate round of the Formula One season with a vital advantage in his Mercedes car. After Hamilton’s win in Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, confirmed he would be reverting to his newest engine at the next meeting in Saudi Arabia, which may make the difference in the world champion’s title fight with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The championship is finely poised. Hamilton’s victory in Qatar closed the gap to Verstappen to just eight points with 52 available from the two remaining meetings. Mercedes lead Red Bull by just five points in the constructors’ contest.
The lead has changed hands between Hamilton and Verstappen five times already but the latter’s slim advantage means he could secure the title in Saudi Arabia on 5 December. Thanks to his nine race wins to Hamilton’s seven so far this season, he will be champion if he wins and takes fastest lap and Hamilton finishes sixth or lower, or if he wins and Hamilton finishes lower than seventh.
Yet barring a failure to finish from the world champion, the most likely outcome is that the two drivers will face off for the title at the season finale in Abu Dhabi on 12 December. Mercedes are confident they have the tools to ensure the championship goes to the wire.
Hamilton won on Sunday at the Losail circuit with a dominant run from pole to flag, with pace Verstappen was unable to match. However Mercedes have more to unleash at the next round. They will be using the new engine Hamilton took for the Brazilian GP and with which he scythed through the field from 10th to victory.
They did not use the engine in Qatar because of the preponderance of high-downforce corners at the Doha circuit. The high-speed straights of the Jeddah circuit in Saudi Arabia, however, will reward raw power, and with their engine used only once and having at most two more races to go, Mercedes will be able to run it at its maximum output.
“It is long straights and we will get our spicy equipment out: the engine for Saudi Arabia,” said Wolff.
Andrew Shovlin, the Mercedes trackside engineering director, was optimistic Hamilton would be able to continue his run of form with two wins from the last two races. “If we look at the track in Saudi, I think it should suit us,” he said. “For Lewis, we have got the more powerful engine to go in the car, so that’s going to give him a useful engine.”
Verstappen last took a new engine at the Russian GP, six races ago. Mercedes will also almost certainly employ their low-downforce wing which Red Bull have accused of bending under load on straights, reducing downforce illegally, and will likely protest against its use.
Mercedes insist their wing complies with FIA regulations, while Hamilton believes his team have managed to bring the best out of their car at exactly the right moment.
“As the year’s gone on, we’ve understood the car more,” he said. “We’ve definitely been able to squeeze more performance out of the package without bringing any upgrades. We’ve not had an upgrade since Silverstone, so it’s quite phenomenal to see the increments that we’ve been improving.”