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Formula 1: Heat is on as title battle heads to Qatar

With three rounds of the Formula 1 season to go, a thrilling title fight will be settled in the desert, as Qatar gets set to stage the next round of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton's personal duel for the world championship.

Hamilton produced one of the best drives of his career in Brazil last time out to keep alive his aspirations of a record-breaking eighth drivers' crown, taking the chequered flag despite a five-place grid penalty for an engine change and being disqualified from qualifying.

The Mercedes driver wasn't to be denied in Sao Paulo, overtaking his rival Verstappen with 13 laps to go after the two had earlier collided when jostling for the lead.

It was a fitting way to conclude what was a brilliant Americas leg to the season and the title race is delicately poised with Verstappen's advantage over Hamilton down to 14 points.

Still in Verstappen's hands

Verstappen is now a 10/11 chance to clinch his first world title, with Hamilton 10/11 after heaping the pressure on the Dutch driver.

However, history tells us it remains advantage Red Bull with the driver who has led the standings heading into the final three races going on to clinch the title in each of the last ten years.

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The destination of the championship will be decided over the final three races in the Middle East with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates providing the staging grounds.

While the first two are new additions to the F1 calendar, Verstappen secured an impressive victory in the UAE last season and will hope to repeat that trick.

Despite having no answer to Hamilton in Brazil, Verstappen has been the dominant driver in the second half of the season, winning seven of the last 13 races, while Hamilton has won three times during that period.

Verstappen is 13/8 to bring up win number 10 this Sunday and only once in F1 history has a driver won that many races failed to clinch the title.

That unlucky driver was Hamilton - a 4/6 chance to win in Qatar - in 2016 when he was edged out by Nico Rosberg.

Pole position crucial

Verstappen also has nine pole positions to his name compared to Hamilton's three and the 24-year-old's quality in qualifying could prove vital in the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix.

The Losail International Circuit, home of this weekend's race, was designed with staging motorbike racing in mind and F1 drivers are likely to find the track narrow with limited room for overtaking.

That will make qualifying on Saturday all-important with Verstappen 6/4 to secure pole position, while Hamilton is 1/1.

While all eyes will be on how the title rivals perform, it could be worth paying attention to Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who is 13/2 to secure pole position for what would be the fourth time in the last five races.

Red Bull need Perez performance

If Hamilton is to turn the tables in the title fight, he'll need the help of Bottas, who has produced some improved displays in the second half of the season.

Verstappen finds himself in a similar position and will be counting on Sergio Perez to go well in qualifying.

The Mexican has only made the top three in qualifying three times all year, starting from fourth on six occasions, but Verstappen could do with him on the front row if he’s to back up the Mercedes duo.

Perez has found it tough to get involved in Verstappen's efforts to win the title, despite three consecutive third-placed finishes before coming home fourth in Brazil, but now would be the perfect time for him to pull out a strong weekend.

Step into the unknown

Mercedes' decision to switch out Hamilton's power unit for a new one looks to have given him the edge over Verstappen.

However, at a track none of the drivers are familiar with and given the way this season has thrown up so many surprises, it could pay to take the value on offer for Verstappen to grab the win this weekend.

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