Max Verstappen heads to Singapore Grand Prix with second world title within his grasp

Dutchman would need unlikely set of results to seal drivers' championship this weekend - but with Ferrari's run of disasters, it cannot be ruled out

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Next stop Singapore and Max Verstappen’s first chance to win the 2022 drivers' world championship.

If the Dutchman’s first title here in Abu Dhabi barely 10 months ago was (and remains) one of the most hotly debated in the sport’s history, this is a very different story.

Even Lewis Hamilton fans would probably accept the Dutchman has been the best driver this year.

And not because he had the fastest car. In fact, statistics indicate Ferrari have had the edge on outright pace but the Red Bull were usually better come race day.

After all, the red race machines have started from pole 10 times in 16 races but won just four times.

The world champion, on the other hand, has started at the front just five times but won 11 Grands Prix. By those parameters he has been masterly.

It’s remarkable that he now leads by 116 points considering the way the season started with two dnfs in three GPs as Charles Leclerc charged to a 34 point advantage.

The fourth round when the tables turned at Imola was to encapsulate the season to come: Verstappen impregnable, Ferrari and Leclerc horribly flawed.

This season the story is as much about Maranello throwing away a championship as Red Bull winning one.

Leclerc fumbled an easy win in France and let more easy points go before that at Imola. Then there have been reliability issues and, perhaps worst of all, woeful strategy calls.

While opprobrium has been piled on the Scuderia and it’s boss Mattia Binotto, the critics seem to have forgotten where the team came from.

Ferrari started the season on the back of one of the worst slumps in its history. They had not won since Singapore two and half years before. From that prism the turnaround is remarkable.

Gallery: Verstappen wins Dutch GP

Of course their winning start stoked a frenzied Italian press and its public to a boiling froth of expectation, only to dump them unceremoniously weekend after weekend and thereby creating an even bigger rod for their own backs.

What is it they say about it being the hope that kills not the disappointment ?

By contrast Verstappen’s form has been regal and almost robotic in grinding out win after win regardless of circumstance. He arrives on the back of a five race winning streak and has been off the podium just once since Azerbaijan in mid June.

If he wins the title this Sunday only two men will have done it faster in modern times – Michael Schumacher (in the 11th race out of 17 in the season) in 2002 and Nigel Mansell (11 of 16 rounds) in 1992.

Although if you go further back, legends Jim Clark and Sir Jackie Stewart have been speedier – and arguably their feat all the- more impressive because the price of the smallest mistake in those days was usually death.

Schumacher won in 2002 with six rounds remaining but Verstappen could match the man next up - Mansell - who did it with five to go in 1992.

Of course the odds are against it happening on Sunday because he not only has to win but hope Ferrari have another of their catastrophic weekends.

Gallery: Verstappen win Belgian GP

But memories of Felipe Massa roaring out of his pit, while leading, with 10 feet of silver fuelling hose trailing behind him and chased, Keystone Cop-like, by his pit crew in 2008 or Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen crashing out together at the first corner in 2017 means it can’t be ruled out.

Not only will Verstappen have to outscore Leclerc by 22 points but teammate Sergio Perez by 13 and George Russell by six. Perez may be the toughest hurdle, although he has yet to finish higher than fifth in this night race.

For a long time it has not been ‘if’ but ‘when’ for Verstappen and he is likely to beat the all-time record for races in a season (13 by Schumacher and Vettel) as well.

His cause will undoubtedly be aided by the fact there are signs too that, faced with the inevitable, rival teams are turning to their 2023 designs and making the remaining races glorified test beds for next year’s grueling 24-race calendar announced last month.

In one respect Verstappen faces an embarrassment of riches given that, Abu Dhabi aside, there are few better places to win a championship than under the lights in party town Singapore or the legendary showdown land that is Suzuka, just seven days later.

While the world has mourned the passing of one monarch and is celebrating the elevation of her successor, the coronation of F1’s own ace racer is not that far away either.

Updated: September 29, 2022, 2:35 AM