It is a measure of Max Verstappen’s superiority in Formula 1 this year that he could have what he described as a “really terrible weekend” at the Singapore Grand Prix and still put himself in a position from which he could easily clinch the world title in Japan on Sunday.
To leave Suzuka as a two-time champion, Verstappen needs to gain eight points on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and 10 on his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.
The mathematical possibilities are many depending on various finishing positions. But if Verstappen wins the race with the fastest lap – by far the most probable scenario at a race track that is likely to suit the Red Bull, which is comfortably the fastest car in the field – he will seal it.
On Sunday night, though, this was not at the forefront of Verstappen’s mind. He acknowledged that winning the title, sooner or later, with five races left and a 104-point lead, was “normally not a problem”.
But he was much more concerned about what had been an unusually messy weekend from both driver and team, whose standard modus operandi this season has been peerlessness.
“It was just a very frustrating weekend,” Verstappen said. “This has just been a really terrible weekend which started yesterday with the big mess-up in qualifying.”
From the few glimpses of Verstappen’s pace that were seen over the weekend at Marina Bay, he was more than capable of dominating the race.
But a series of errors from the team in qualifying left him eighth on the grid.
Red Bull asked him to abort a lap that would have been good enough for pole so he could do another that would have been expected to be faster in drying conditions. But two corners from the end of another lap that would have been pole, they realised he was short of fuel and therefore had to abort that too, so as not to fall foul of a rule that demands a litre of fuel for a sample to remain in the car.
That left a very unhappy Verstappen eighth on the grid. From there, he said, a win was impossible and probably a podium, too.
Some doubted him, given wins from down the grid in three of last four races, but he was on the money. As expected, he became stuck in traffic. He made two uncharacteristic errors trying to make progress and the result was seventh at the flag.
“We have five races left and we have a big lead but I want to have a good weekend every single time,” Verstappen said. (BBC)