Lewis Hamilton’s latest title triumph at the United States Grand Prix means both 2019 world championships have been settled as Formula 1 heads to Brazil. 

A second-place finish in Austin was enough for Hamilton to beat Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas - who claimed his fourth win of the season - to this year’s drivers’ crown, while Mercedes wrapped up its record-equalling sixth straight constructors’ title in October at the Japanese Grand Prix. 

Hamilton has vowed to remain fully focused on the final two races of the year despite sealing the championship early, with the Briton having no intentions to back off as he continues to close in on Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of seven world titles and 91 grand prix victories. 

“As an athlete I feel fresh as can be, we won't let up,” Hamilton stressed after the race in Texas. “We must keep pushing because I know we have more to do - more championships to win, more races to win.”

After leading the way since the summer break, Ferrari’s mysterious drop off in Austin raised some eyebrows and prompted suggestions from its rivals that its performance had been hurt by a technical directive issued regarding its supremely powerful engine. 

The Italian squad’s SF90 challenger should, in theory at least, fare well around the Interlagos circuit. The long climb up the final corner and subsequent drag to Turn 1 will show whether Ferrari still holds a power advantage over its rivals, while Mercedes and Red Bull can be expected to be stronger in the more technical opening and middle sectors of the lap. 

Battle to be best of the rest 

With both titles done and dusted, attention will turn towards the battle to claim third spot in the championship behind the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, along with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, are the three drivers in the hunt for the biggest bragging rights left on offer in 2019. 

Thanks to an impressive maiden year at Ferrari, Leclerc currently leads the way in third by 14 points over Verstappen, who in turn is five points clear of Vettel. Vettel is the most successful current driver at Interlagos, having won three times in total. Twice with Red Bull in 2010 and 2013, before adding a third victory in 2017 with Ferrari

Leclerc’s hopes of defending his advantage could be dealt a blow in Brazil, with the Monegasque set to be hit with a 10-place grid penalty for taking on a new power unit, following his engine-related issues in the US.

After the race in Austin, Verstappen conceded he felt the deficit to Leclerc could prove too big to overturn, but if the Dutchman can pull off a performance similar to his wet-weather heroics in Sao Paulo in 2016, then he could be in with a shout. 

The tussle to emerge on top of the midfield fight is the other big prize on offer heading into the final two rounds of the season, with McLaren currently leading the way with a 38-point buffer to nearest challengers Renault. 

Renault is in need of a slice of fortune to bridge the sizeable gap to McLaren, with the British squad looking well on course to end a solid year of progression with the midfield honours. 

The French manufacturer must also keep one eye over its shoulder with Racing Point and Toro Rosso lurking just 18 and 17 points adrift in sixth and seventh places respectively, while the freshly retained Alexander Albon is in a direct battle with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr to take sixth spot in the drivers’ standings, with just four points splitting the duo.

Uncertain future for Interlagos? 

F1’s long-term future in Brazil remains uncertain. While claims from the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, that the race would move to a new circuit in Rio de Janeiro from 2020, Interlagos has been confirmed as the venue for next year’s event. 

Sao Paulo’s Interlagos track has hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix since 1990 but is out of contract at the end of 2020. 

Brazil is considered among F1’s most important markets due to the championship’s popularity and large fan base in the country, as well as providing F1 with its largest single national television audience. 

The facilities at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace have been revamped and modernised in recent years, including a brand new pit and paddock complex, though speculation of a move away from Interlagos has continued. 

According to Bolsonaro, the yet-to-be-built Rio MotorPark venue would be able to host 130,000 fans compared to the 60,000 capacity at Interlagos.

F1 bosses are keen to retain Brazil’s presence on the calendar, with Interlagos determined to strike a fresh contract to continue hosting grand prix racing beyond 2021. 

 

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