Red Bull driver Max Verstappen arrives in Saudi Arabia with an eight-point lead over Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton in the race for the 2021 title, which could be settled this weekend if results go in the Dutchman's favour.
Verstappen will become World Champion for the very first time, and prevent Hamilton from winning a record eighth crown, if he manages to pull off an 18-point swing on Sunday.
Ahead of the potential title-decider, RacingNews365.com spoke with five-time Grand Prix winner John Watson, who represented the likes of McLaren, Brabham and Penske during his time in the sport, and himself came close to winning the title in 1982.
We've seen a lot of back and forth between Red Bull and Mercedes, and specifically Christian Horner and Toto Wolff, in recent weekends. What is your view on the situation as the title battle reaches its climax?
"Ultimately, the thing that's turning this into a barrack-room brawl, is the bickering between Horner and Wolff. This was meant to be a championship battle between on the one hand, drivers, and on the other hand, manufacturers. Here we have the two Team Principals in a schoolyard punch up. It is unedifying and it is not what Formula 1 - in my opinion - should be focusing on. They should be focusing on a championship battle between two of the finest drivers in the world, one an seven-time champion, one a champion in waiting. The drivers are not saying a huge amount, from what I can see, about one another, but their Team Principals are out of order, almost to the point of bringing the sport into disrepute."
Switching our attention to on-track matters, and this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, what do you make of the new Jeddah Corniche Circuit?
"What we've got is a racetrack that looks like it's going to be extremely fast - an average speed estimated to be around 250 plus kilometers per hour, which is putting it into a similar speed range as that of Monza. It's going to be a 'magical mystery tour' for everyone, because while they have simulators back at their factories, the difference when you go on the racetrack is the physical feel that a driver will experience in real-time. Secondly, it's a brand new racetrack, with brand new tarmac, and it will take a certain time for that to get a racing line on it, let alone for the surface to become a proper racetrack. It is almost impossible to anticipate what will happen. You can take the form book and say that Lewis, Max or whomever is going to be the class of the field, but it may be a racetrack that will punish any little error, because there are so many elements that are unknown elements. In Qatar, for example, it was also a brand new circuit to Formula 1, but you had wide-open spaces - lots and lots of run-off."
Do you have any safety concerns, given the speeds and the proximity of the walls?
"The only issues that exist on street tracks, where you've got concrete barriers, and the same applies to Baku, is the danger of a car hitting a concrete barrier and ricocheting back into the path of an oncoming car. It's a bit like Singapore, for example, where it's a quick circuit, and the track is defined by concrete barriers. There is an issue of drivers needing to accept that this is not like Qatar, where a driving error, or a misjudgement, will not be punished. There are parts of this racetrack that will punish poor driving judgement or poor driving standards."
How do you see the weekend unfolding, with these factors in mind?
"If you make an error in certain parts of this racetrack, it's over, in terms of practice or qualifying or the race - there is no recovery in certain parts. Max and Lewis are not stupid. Lewis is exceptional in understanding what he needs to do and how much he needs to push. But Lewis needs to win, in reality. He can't control what Max does, all he can do is focus on himself. Mercedes have got to get Valtteri Bottas in there to do something better than he's done in the last few events, to ride shotgun. It will be a question of, will Bottas have a car with equivalent performance to Lewis, if Lewis is holding back this 'super engine'? He needs to run second to Lewis. And the thing about fastest lap, both teams have got the option of running the second drivers. It's going to be very, very tense in my view."
Would you rather be in Hamilton or Verstappen's position for the final two races?
"Lewis has got the momentum. He's got the benefit of what one understands is as a 'rocket ship' engine that he used in Brazil. Lewis' task is fundamentally very clear: he's got to win this race and he's got to win in Abu Dhabi. I would rather be in Lewis' situation, because you know what you've got to do. Max will go for the win if he can get the opportunity. If he wins in Saudi, then he's won the championship. I don't know what will happen at Red Bull. I don't know how quick they will be, whether they've got a backup engine or can change an engine without detriment to Max's grid position. On a fast track, you want the benefit of horsepower."
You were in a similar situation during your title-contending season, weren't you?
"I was in this situation in 1982, at the last Grand Prix in Las Vegas. I was a certain number of points behind Keke Rosberg. My task was clear: I had to win the Grand Prix and Rosberg had to finish fifth or lower for me to be World Champion. I came second in the race to a Tyrrell that performed out of its skin - it was unbelievable. Rosberg finished fifth and he won the World Championship. I lost it - it was lost earlier in the year - but the reality is, when you find yourself in these circumstances, your destiny is very clear. Lewis' destiny is he's got to win the bloody race! To keep any hope of the championship alive, that's simply what he's got to do."
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