Who will reign supreme over the final seven races to win the 2021 Championship? Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen? (Photo: F1/Twitter)

With seven races to go on the F1 calendar and just two points separating Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, who will win the 2021 F1 Championship?

The 2021 Formula One season has been one of the most exciting in recent memory, with the race for the Drivers’ Championship having gone back and forth all season long.

Not since the 2006 season has a battle for the title been so close after 15 races, with currently just two points separating Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the top of the standings.

Hamilton has dominated the F1 landscape in recent years having won the past four championships with little competition, however Verstappen is presenting Hamilton with his largest challenge for the title in five years.

There is so much on the line this season for the winner with Verstappen hoping to win his first Championship, and in the process return Red Bull to their glory days. Hamilton, meanwhile, will look to cement his place as the Greatest Of All Time, with championship number eight.

We have seen the two come to blows twice this season, at Silverstone and Monza, showcasing just how intense the rivalry has been.

So far this season Hamilton has won five Grand Prixs and finished on the podium in a further six, while Verstappen has won seven races and podiumed in four others. Combined the two have won 12 of the 15 races this year.

Now with just two points separating Hamilton and Verstappen at the top of the standings and seven races to go, The Inner Sanctum looks at who the remaining races favour and who may be crowned the 2021 World Champion.

Turkish Grand Prix

The Turkish Grand Prix was one of the most exciting races of the 2020 season, taking place at the Istanbul Park Circuit on a wet circuit, making for plenty of action.

Hamilton took at the Grand Prix and with the victory secured his seventh World Drivers’ Championship title. The Brit will be looking to emulate that success again this year, having won at the circuit twice in 2020 and 2010.

He has raced in Istanbul six times, having picked up podiums in 2007 and 2008 and a fourth-place finish in 2011.

With the 2020 season being the first time F1 had raced in Turkey since 2011, last year served as the only time Verstappen has experienced racing on the circuit.

It is difficult to base the results of this year’s event on last year’s due to the wet weather causing an abnormal race, with drivers slipping and sliding around the track.

While Verstappen did finish the race in sixth after beginning in second, he did have some misfortune, being slow to react at the race start, spinning out and needing to pit twice unlike Hamilton who only did so once.

Despite the disappointing final result, Verstappen was the standout in the practice and qualifying sessions, which would give Red Bull some confidence.

Mercedes has historically performed well in Istanbul, and combined with the extra experience Hamilton has at the circuit compared to Verstappen, this should aid him.

However, with rain forecasted for this weekend’s race, it could be a coin flip between the two, being heavily dependent on the results from qualifying and who makes the least mistakes, similar to last year’s race.

United States Grand Prix

After not taking place in 2020, the United States Grand Prix is back this season, at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

As is the case with most Grand Prixs, Lewis Hamilton has a strong record in Austin having won six races, his last coming in 2017. Since that 2017 Grand Prix, in the past two meetings Hamilton and Verstappen have switched second and third place finishes.

In 2018 however, Verstappen came from 18th to finish second, ahead of Hamilton who started the race in pole position.

Considering that in 2018 and 2019, Red Bull’s car was not nearly as competitive as it is currently, this will be the team’s best chance at beating Mercedes in Austin, however will need a flawless weekend to do so.

Mexican Grand Prix

The Mexican Grand Prix will be another returning fixture to the F1 calendar, a race that Red Bull will be eyeing off as a must win, having performed strongly there in recent years.

Verstappen and Hamilton have both won the Grand Prix twice, however Verstappen has performed better overall, never finishing outside of the top six since joining Red Bull.

In the most recent race in 2019, which Hamilton won, the two collided on the first corner with Verstappen coming worst off, losing places while Hamilton was able to maintain his position.

Soon after Verstappen sustained a puncture while trying to chase down Valtteri Bottas, which forced him to pit on lap five and ended his chances of being competitive in the race, ultimately finishing in sixth.

With Red Bull performing better on higher altitude tracks in recent years – as is the case at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City – Verstappen should be the favourite heading into this race weekend.

With Mexico being the home Grand Prix of Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, if the Mexican driver can have a strong result this could prove crucial to Verstappen’s title hopes. Verstappen has not had a reliable teammate since 2018 when Daniel Ricciardo was with the team.

If Perez can get Red Bull its first one-two finish of the season and put a gap between Verstappen and Hamilton, that could give him some extra points and breathing room heading into the final four races of the year.

Brazilian Grand Prix

The Brazilian Grand Prix has been a race that Red Bull has seen plenty of success over the years.

During the early 2010s, the team won the Grand Prix four times and in the most recent edition in 2019 returned to glory with Verstappen taking it out.

Since joining Red Bull in 2016, Verstappen has performed well each time at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo with two other podium finishes to go along with his 2019 victory.

Hamilton has won the Grand Prix twice in 2016 and 2018 and has two second place finishes in 2014 and 2015 when Mercedes was the dominant team in Sao Paulo.

However, with Red Bull’s car now being just as competitive as Mercedes this year, and just like the Mexican Grand Prix, Sao Paulo being located at high altitude, the Grand Prix should benefit Red Bull.

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Qatar Grand Prix

With the Qatar Grand Prix being the first time F1 has raced in the country, there is no history to lean back on to help predict how drivers and teams have gone in the past.

Additionally, there is still being some uncertainty around the time of the day when the race will take place, as during the day the temperatures are hot and humid, while at night are significantly cooler which will affect team strategies and tyre degradation.  

What we do know is the Grand Prix will take place at the purpose-built Losail International Circuit a track which was primarily designed for MotoGP, and therefore is a fast-flowing track.

The Qatar track resembles the layout of the Bahrain Grand Prix, a race that historically Mercedes and Hamilton have performed well at. The track also has a handful of long straights which would appear to favour Mercedes.

While Mercedes might have the slight edge, without any data to go off, the race is practically a coin-flip at this point.

The Qatar Grand Prix was a recent addition to the F1, after being brought in to replace the Australian Grand Prix after its cancellation in early July.

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is another new addition to the F1 calendar for 2021, taking place at the Jeddah Street Circuit.

Unlike classic street circuits such as Monaco, the Jeddah Street Circuit will be the fastest street circuit ever in Formula One, having the most corners of any race in 2021. Many of the corners will be quick, sinuous bends making for a high pace affair.

A track with multiple high-speed corners will be beneficial to Red Bull due to their high rake design, the angle at which the floor slopes up from the front to the rear. This allows Red Bull to generate more down-force in comparison to Mercedes which is lower, making the car more aerodynamically efficient.

Verstappen has performed strongly in the previous Grand Prixs at street circuits this season. The Dutchman finished in second place at the Spanish Grand Prix, won at Monaco, and while he got a DNF in Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he was leading the race until his tyre burst.

While like the Qatar Grand Prix, there is no previous data to go off, everything is pointing to the advantage of Red Bull in Saudi Arabia.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

There is a very high likelihood that the Championship could be decided in the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Yas Marina has been a stronghold of Mercedes, having had won every Grand Prix since 2014 until Verstappen’s surprise win in 2020. While this will give Red Bull some confidence, at last season’s race Hamilton was hampered, having just returned from his recovery after catching COVID-19.

Changes have been made to the Yas Marina circuit from previous years, with alterations to the track layout to allow drivers to keep more sustained speed throughout and creating more overtaking opportunities. It is unclear who these changes will benefit more, but Mercedes will be the favourites entering the last race of the year.

It will not just be the battle between Hamilton and Verstappen which will be intriguing but also their respective teams, with Red Bull hoping to dethrone Mercedes for the first time in eight years and win their first Constructors Championship since 2013. Mercedes currently holds a 33 point lead over Red Bull.

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