SINGAPORE — He might not have been at the official press conference at the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix on Thursday (29 September), but overall leader Max Verstappen was on every driver's lips as the Red Bull race driver begins the final stretch of a dominant season.
Singapore will be the first race where the Dutchman could seal his second straight overall title, as he holds a massive 116-point lead over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc after winning 11 of the 16 races so far this season.
If Verstappen wins at the Marina Bay street circuit, and Leclerc finishes no higher than eighth and third-placed Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez does not make the podium, then he will join F1 greats such as Fernando Alonso, Grant Hill, Mika Hakkinen and Jim Clark as a two-time champion at the age of just 24.
"What Max has done over the course of the season is quite impressive," said Haas' Mick Schumacher. "He's a tough start to the season but then turn it around pretty pretty well with Red Bull."
McLaren's Lando Norris agreed and added, "I know how tough it is to produce a good car, so for Max and Red Bull to go out and produce these results every single weekend, especially when he starts last and still wins quite easily, it's good to watch even when I was racing in my car."
One-horse race no fun for racing fans: Hamilton
One of the more frequent gripes of the season, however, is that Verstappen is so far ahead of the chasing pack that there is not much of excitement in the driver's title race - unlikely the 2021 season when he and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton had a duel for the ages all year, pushing each other until the very last lap of the final race.
Hamilton has not been in contention this season, and the Briton admitted that it is never fun for racing fans when a driver is exceptionally dominant. The seven-time overall champion has been in some dominant seasons himself, such as his 2018 season when he set the F1 record for the most points scored in a season (408 points).
"It's never great when the season finishes early. Well, great for one individual, but not great for the other drivers and all the fans," he said.
"Personally, I'm still going to enjoy the remaining six races. I'm proud of the growth within our team, and how hard everyone has been working, and that has been the most inspiring thing for me this season."
Tough Marina Bay circuit weighing on drivers' minds
Besides Verstappen, the toughness of the Marina Bay street circuit is also on everyone's minds as they prepare for an exceptionally humid and energy-sapping race filled with narrow lanes and twisty turns on Sunday.
For Williams' Thai driver Alex Albon, the physical demands of the Singapore race come mere weeks after he had to spend a night in a hospital intensive care unit, missing out on the Italian Grand Prix as he suffered respiratory failure due to complications from an appendicitis operation.
The 26-year-old insisted that he has recovered from that harrowing episode and is raring to race in Singapore, but admitted that he has no idea how his body will react come the practice sessions on Friday.
"I'm planning to race and I'm confident with my body, but once you start driving the car in these tough conditions, as a driver you will know straightaway if you can deal with the conditions," he said.
"But I've already started my rehab two Mondays ago, and my doctors and I felt that, with the speed of my recovery, racing in Singapore is definitely possible."
For Schumacher, the problem is unfamiliarity: this is his first Singapore race, and he can only refer to what other drivers have been saying about the challenges of the circuit.
"It's a matter of getting into a rhythm," he said. "I've done a few simulator sessions on this track and watched a lot of videos on this place, and I'm really excited to go out there and make my own kind of experiences on this place."
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