Two years on from their epic battle for the 2021 world title, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen look set to lock horns, or be in close proximity again, at this weekend’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
After finishing second on track behind Red Bull’s three-time champion in Austin and Mexico, Mercedes hope that Hamilton can deliver a victory in Brazil, as his team-mate George Russell did 12 months ago to claim his maiden success in a one-two for the Silver Arrows.
But they know that Verstappen will not be giving anything in commitment or pace as he seeks to continue his record-breaking swathe of victories at the atmospheric Interlagos circuit that has hosted many racing dramas.
Mercedes’ last win came in Brazil with Russell last year while since then Red Bull have reeled off 19 wins, 17 by Verstappen and two by Sergio Perez, in an unprecedented run of success broken only by a solitary Carlos Sainz triumph for Ferrari in Singapore.
Russell also won the sprint last year while Hamilton, with a brilliant drive through the field, won the 2021 Grand Prix.
With the team winning six of the last eight at Interlagos, overall confidence is high this weekend.
“We go there knowing we have a good car and believing that if we put all our ducks in a row then we can have a very strong weekend,” said Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
Hamilton agreed, suggesting: “These next two will be very close, but I’m sure Max will get 18 or 19 this year.”
Hamilton, a three-time winner in Brazil, was genuinely competitive in the last two races, even if he was disqualified in Texas, and with vociferous support in a country that has adopted him as an honorary Brazilian, is sure to do all he can to repay the fans who regard him as one of their own in the absence of a Brazilian driver.
Verstappen will have a 52nd career victory in sight, and his 17th of the year, to move within a win of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel’s tally of 53.
“He’s not obsessive in chasing records, or statistics,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
“But he knows more than you think — he just has an inner desire, an inner belief, an inner hunger that drives him all the time. It’s something he shares with all the greats.”
After his opening-lap crash and retirement in Mexico, Perez will also be acutely motivated.
He lies second in the title race with only a 20-point advantage on Hamilton, with three races remaining, and Horner has impressed how keen he is for Red Bull to finish first and second for the first time.
“Mexico was devastating for me, but these things happen,” said Perez, whose future with the team has been the subject of much speculation.
“You can’t afford to go over what happened or what may have been. My focus is to finish second and to have a great weekend in Brazil.”
In another sprint race weekend, with only a single practice session on Friday, Ferrari will also hope to be a competitive force and McLaren to demonstrate more consistency in what promises to be an action-packed weekend.
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