Mika Hakkinen believes Max Verstappen now has a sizeable advantage in this year’s Formula 1 title race but that Lewis Hamilton cannot be discounted.
Verstappen moved 19 points clear of Hamilton with back-to-back victories in the United States and Mexico as he chases his maiden world title.
Only four rounds remain in 2021, with this weekend’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix followed by maiden trips to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, ahead of the finale in Abu Dhabi.
“There is no doubt that Max’s victory has given him a strong lead in the World Championship with only four races remaining,” Hakkinen wrote in his Unibet column.
“But in my opinion a lot can still happen in this battle between Red Bull and Mercedes.
“While the next Grand Prix in Brazil should again suit Max’s car, Lewis Hamilton won at Interlagos in 2016 and 2018.
“We then head to two new circuits in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which means neither team has any data from previous events on which to rely.
“They will of course use simulation technology to predict performance, but you never really know how a car and tyres will work until you start running. Freshly surfaced, new tracks can be oily, dusty and definitely tricky.
“Red Bull have shown a small but important pace advantage, however I am certain that next four races will produce surprises.
“This is when the psychology of the driver and his team will become important. When everything is going well it can start to feel easy, but it’s when something goes wrong that championship-winners show just how good they are.”
Hakkinen won both of his world titles during last-race showdowns in 1998 and 1999.
“Every point counts, and so too does every technical issue or accident,” he said.
“You have to keep your focus, and keep working hard with everyone in the team to make sure nothing is taken for granted. If you relax, the other guy is always waiting to take an opportunity.
“In my experience, therefore, it’s never over until the chequered flag falls on the last race.
“I feel sure this World Championship can go all the way to Abu Dhabi.
“Mercedes will do everything they can to make that happen, and no one should discount Lewis’ ability to give Max plenty to think about during these final races. He likes a challenge, and that’s what Max is to Lewis.”