Johannesburg – Ah, yes, Interlagos – the track that was immortalised by Ayrton Senna in the 1990s and which remains a fan favourite to this day.
It is there that in 2005 Fernando Alonso became the then youngest world champion in F1 history, only to be eclipsed in 2008 by Lewis Hamilton. It is there, where in that year, Brazilian Felipe Massa came excruciatingly close to becoming champion himself, winning the race only to see Hamilton dramatically overtake Timo Glock in the last corner to win the title by a point.
A year earlier, it was there where Hamilton suffered a similar fate when Kimi Raikkonen won the GP to become champion, also by a point. In 2009 Jenson Button became world champion by finishing fifth and four years later Sebastian Vettel beat out the grid to win his fourth consecutive championship.
We won’t see anything as dramatic on Sunday – both Max Verstappen and Hamilton still have much to do to stitch up the drivers’ championship, but it will nevertheless have a huge impact on the battle for the title.
Four races remain, and it is expected that the Honda-powered Red Bulls and their sister team AlphaTuari will do well here, much like they did in Mexico last week. Ferrari will also have an opportunity to extend their lead over McLaren this weekend as they vie for third in the constructors’ championship.
The Scuderia were not all that pleased with their fifth and sixth-place finishes this past weekend, so another big effort is expected from them as they seek to take advantage of a flailing McLaren. They can certainly do so through the consistent Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
But the weekend will be highly focussed on Verstappen v Hamilton. The Dutchman has the opportunity to extend his 19-point lead even further, which will give him virtually a race in hand. It will be an important buffer, because those in the know are now sliding Qatar and Saudi Arabia – the next two races – as tracks where the Silver Arrows will bounce back.
All that will then be required from Verstappen is to finish second in those events, as well as in Abu Dhabi, and he will be F1’s new world champion.