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Formula 1: Verstappen powering towards title glory

A dramatic Formula 1 season is rounding the final bend as we get set for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix and firmly placed at the head of the field is Max Verstappen.

The Dutch driver is so close to his first world title he can taste it after opening up a 19-point lead over reigning champion Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen has won the last two races and is 4/7 to extend his winning run at one of motor racing's favourite haunts, Interlagos.

Red Bull have performed well in Brazil the last two years the Grand Prix was held - Verstappen taking the chequered flag in 2019 - and they will be eager to press home their advantage having proven quicker than Mercedes in both the United States and Mexico.

Do or die for Hamilton

Red Bull dominated the majority of last weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, aside from a minor slip up in qualifying, which Verstappen was easily able to overcome as he crossed the line first, over 16 seconds clear of Hamilton in second.

Verstappen is now 2/9 to claim the F1 title, with Hamilton out to 10/3 and well aware he can't afford to lose any more ground.

Hamilton admits the Silver Arrows are "in trouble" if they can't find a swift answer to Red Bull's superior pace and another victory for Verstappen could put the title beyond the Briton's reach.

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In the last ten years, the driver atop the standings heading into the final three races of the season has always gone on to claim the title, painting a picture of the size of the task that faces Hamilton, who is 9/4 for the win this weekend.

However, one thing the Brazilian Grand Prix is rarely short of is drama, as Hamilton can testify to when winning his first world title on the last lap of the 2008 race - and it would certainly be fitting if the Mercedes man can deliver another twist in his enthralling title battle with Verstappen at one of F1's great circuits.

Interlagos equals entertainment

Interlagos has an innate ability to humble even the best drivers. Michael Schumacher (4) and Sebastian Vettel (3) are the only drivers to have ever won three times at the circuit, with Hamilton amongst a collection of drivers, including home favourites Aryton Senna and Felipe Massa, with two wins to their name.

Very little has changed about the circuit since it was reintroduced as the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1990 following extensive work, which included shortening the track from five miles to 2.7 miles. The track features a dramatic change in elevation and the famous Senna S bend at the start of a lap.

No team can match McLaren when it comes to victories at the Brazilian Grand having had the winning car 12 times previously, although Hamilton isn’t amongst the Woking-based outfit's collection of victors.

Mercedes don't have head for heights

Hamilton's wins in 2016 and 2018 both came behind the wheel of a Mercedes, the Silver Arrows recording four victories in total despite often struggling with the altitude.

Although not as significant a factor as it is at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mercedes' power units have still found it tough to perform at their best at 800 metres above level.

Red Bull have often coped better, recording five wins at Interlagos, while they were utterly dominant in 2019.

Verstappen was fastest in all three phases of qualifying before going on to pass Hamilton twice during the race to claim first place.

The 24-year-old should have won the race the year before too, a collision with backmarker Esteban Ocon handing the win to Hamilton on a plate and resulting in some unsavoury scenes in the weigh-in room between Verstappen and Ocon after the race.

Sprint not a marathon for Brazil qualifying

The key to victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix in recent years has been to secure pole position. Six of the last seven races at Interlagos have been won by the driver starting from pole position and that’s good news for Verstappen, who has taken first place on the grid nine times this year.

Qualifying for Sunday's race will have a different complexion though as the third and final sprint race of the year to decide the order of the grid takes place in Sao Paulo. Verstappen won the first sprint race at the British Grand Prix, while he was second in Italy.

It's 8/11 that the driver starting from pole will win Sunday's race, while Verstappen is 4/6 to win the sprint, with Hamilton a 2/1 chance to secure what would be only his fourth pole of the year.

The Brit has as many poles as team-mate Valtteri Bottas this year and the in-form Finn could be a lively 16/1 outsider to win the sprint race, having triumphed in Italy, while he took pole in Turkey and Mexico.

The sprint format does not help the chances of Ferrari, who have often shown excellent one lap pace in Brazil in recent times, starting from second and fourth respectively in 2019.

The Scuderia's Carlos Sainz Jr will hope for a strong showing in the sprint to set him up for potentially a 12th successive points finish, while the Spaniard came home third in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix and is 5/1 for the top three again.

Decisive Verstappen victory

Ultimately, Sainz and co are likely to be battling for the places behind Hamilton and Verstappen, who have finished in the top two positions nine times in 18 races.

Hamilton has had to play second fiddle in most of those races, winning only two of the last 13 Grands Prix, and with Red Bull holding a distinct pass advantage, the Brit's dream of a record eighth title could be all-but ended in Brazil.

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