LOSAIL, Qatar (AP) — The race for the Formula One title is officially over with five rounds of the season still to go. The next one is at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 22.
It was clear for months that Max Verstappen was on course to retain his title even before the Red Bull driver made it official Saturday in the sprint race in Qatar. He followed up with victory in Sunday’s grand prix.
There could yet be drama this season as Red Bull and Verstappen close in on records, Sergio Perez holds onto second place and F1 returns to Las Vegas after more than 40 years.
Here is a look at some of the stories to watch in F1:
RECORDS IN SIGHT
Verstappen has 14 wins this season — not including sprints — and needs one more to match his own record of 15 from last year. Red Bull has 16 and would need to win four of the last five races to beat the record of 19 wins in a season set by Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton as they fought for the title in 2016. No team has ever had a clean sweep of wins — and Red Bull can’t achieve it after Carlos Sainz Jr. won for Ferrari in Singapore last month. The closest a team has been to perfection is McLaren’s 15 wins from 16 races with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988.
PEREZ AND HAMILTON
Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s teammate, has been struggling for form — he placed 10th on Sunday in Qatar — after seeming to be a championship contender earlier in the season. He is still second in the standings with a 30-point advantage over Hamilton but could let that spot slip without a significant improvement over the last five races. Perez scored only one point on Sunday but was helped when Hamilton crashed at the first corner after colliding with Mercedes teammate George Russell. Perez also has the benefit of a home crowd when he races in Mexico City on Oct. 29.
CHASING A WIN
The McLaren team has excelled since making significant upgrades to its car for the British Grand Prix in July. If Verstappen makes a mistake or has a mechanical failure — although either of those outcomes appears near-impossible — then it could open the door to a first career win for Lando Norris, who has been on the podium 11 times in his career but never on the top step, or rookie teammate Oscar Piastri, who was first in Saturday’s sprint race.
LAS VEGAS SHOW
The Las Vegas Grand Prix on Nov. 18 will surely put on a show, even if there isn’t much left for the drivers to fight for on track. F1 has raced in Las Vegas before on a temporary track in the parking lot of Caesars Palace in 1981 and 1982. The new track layout is far more spectacular, with cars speeding at night along the Las Vegas Strip.
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The Associated Press