Lewis Hamilton has sealed drivers' title but still plenty to race for as Formula One heads to Bahrain

As the F1 circus arrives in Middle East, the battle for third place in the constructors' championship is worth keeping an eye on

Despite appearances, Formula One arrives in the Middle East on Thursday with plenty to play for.

Ok, Lewis Hamilton has wrapped up an earth-shattering seventh world title in some style but there is plenty still at stake.

I’m curious to see how successful the new Bahrain format will be over the next two Sundays: two rounds a week apart, same circuit but different layout.

It could be a great solution to expanding the calendar without increasing the life-wreckingly unsustainable global traveling regime teams are forced to endure.

The 23-race calendar announced for 2021 will, of course, be the most extensive and gruelling in the sport's history.

For my money its too many and too often. The fans I have spoken to generally have that viewpoint.

But others would argue football is on every weekend and often a game slotted in mid-week as well for teams playing in European competition.

Sunday’s race is around the traditional 5.4km layout and the Sakhir GP seven days later uses about half of that and is as close to an oval circuit as modern F1 has ever come.

There are three left-handed kinks in mid-chicanes but otherwise it’s 11 corners, all right-handers and a sub-60s lap.

Of course if you’ve ever seen a proper oval Indycar race you’ll know this is nothing like it. They are four corner banked affairs in which the cars battling for first and second can be circling above those duking it out for 15th and 16th.

It’s not something I, personally, like but apparently they lap it up in America with something happening somewhere every, ohhh, three seconds. But given F1 now has American owners it’s no surprise this experiment is, at least, being tried.

Then there’s the battle for third place that has been going on behind the Mercedes snooze-fest.

With Red Bull having all-but tied up the runner’s-up spot, just 24 points separate Racing Point in third and Ferrari in sixth. (To lay it out: Racing Point 154, McLaren 149, Renault 136 and Ferrari 130)

With a possible 129 points on the table it’s anyone’s game and tens of millions in prize-money at stake.

Ferrari have had a laudable revival but they have been lamentably erratic so they are outsiders, along with Renault, sleeping giant that it is.

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F1 drivers with the most titles

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It's an interesting subplot that Maranello's senior driver Sebastian Vettel (the one who has been dumped) scored their first podium in nearly four months at the last race at his teammate's expense and would like to be going out the door after Abu Dhabi with a few more of those.

The real battle for that third place in the constructors championship probably comes down to Racing Point (the pink Mercedes) and a revitalised McLaren.

Some are painting it as Carlos Sainz versus Sergio Perez. Sainz, son of the rally legend, is off to Ferrari while the outstanding Perez is heading for unemployment.

I don’t see it that way. I know Lance Stroll silenced a few doubters with his pole performance but he is otherwise too unpredictable on raceday.

So Perez will have to go it alone, while McLaren have rising star Lando Norris backing up Sainz. For a rookie, Norris has had a remarkable first season so I'm backing the former champions.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 15: Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren F1 and team members pose with a Pudsey Bear toy on the grid after the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey at Intercity Istanbul Park on November 15, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

McLaren have the encouragement of a couple of semi ‘home’ races to spice the pot still further as they partly owned by Mumtalakat, the Bahrain sovereign wealth fund.

Perez is in the shootout for the second Red Bull seat along with another ex-Red Bull racer, Nico Hulkenberg. The jungle drums suggest current pilot Alex Albon has been given enough time to prove himself and it has not worked out.

Another major name has been quietly settled, it appears. Mick Schumacher, son of the legendary seven-time champion may have got the nod over Callum Illot, fellow Ferrari Academy pilot, at Haas.

Rumour has it the powers that be have decided not to wait and see who comes out on top in the tightly contested final two rounds of the F2 championship in Bahrain.

Much else is in the melting pot too. Behind the scenes F1’s entire long-term future with or without combustion engines is very much in discussion.

Although F1 is sticking with the hybrid set-up and fossil fuels for the next five years (with one billion cars on the planet how could they not?) everything after that is the subject of fierce debate.

The electric power scene has already grabbed by Formula E so where is left for F1 move forward and still be relevant to its fans worldwide and the global commercial markets as fossil fuels disappear ?

In Bahrain, team bosses know it’s not over, in fact it’s only just beginning.

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