Formula 1: Max Verstappen can clinch the 2023 title before Sunday's Qatar Grand Prix

A sixth-place finish in Saturday's sprint guarantees Verstappen a third-straight championship

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates during the awarding ceremony after the race of the Formula One Japan Grand Prix held at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Japan, Sept, 2023. (Photo by Qian Jun/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Max Verstappen was back to his winning ways in Formula 1 two weeks ago in Japan. (Photo by Qian Jun/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Max Verstappen can clinch the 2023 Formula 1 title before Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix even starts.

Verstappen enters the race weekend a staggering 173 points ahead of Sergio Perez with six races to go. And with Qatar being a sprint weekend, Verstappen can ensure that Perez has no mathematical shot to win the title by simply finishing sixth in Saturday’s sprint race.

A sixth-place finish would prevent Perez from winning the title even if Perez won each of the last six races and posted the fastest lap in each of them while also winning the three sprint races remaining on the schedule.

If the title isn’t clinched Saturday — it likely will be — Verstappen just has to have a 146-point lead on Perez after the Grand Prix (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) to be crowned champion. And given how much of a favorite Verstappen is to win at the Lusail Circuit, don’t be surprised if he’s celebrating his title in victory lane on Sunday.

Verstappen is -450 to win the race at BetMGM, and no other driver is better than 12-1. Perez and Lando Norris are tied as the No. 2 favorites at +1200, while McLaren’s Oscar Piastri is at +1800. Yes, McLaren’s drivers are the No. 2 favorites to Red Bull and ahead of both Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is at +2000, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is at +2200.

This weekend’s race is just the second F1 event at Lusail and the first since 2021. The track was added to the 2021 calendar because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then added on a regular basis going forward starting in 2023.

Hamilton won the 2021 race by 25 seconds ahead of Verstappen in a race that didn’t feature a single caution. It’s hard to take much from that victory, however. The car regulations were much different and Mercedes won the constructor’s title.

The track features a long front straight and lots of high-speed corners. That’s a perfect recipe for Verstappen and Red Bull.

Here are a few bets that we like ahead of the race weekend. All odds are from BetMGM.

Fernando Alonso to finish top 10 (-400)

  • Alonso’s speed has fallen off the longer the season has gone on. But his Aston Martin is still plenty fast enough to get a top 10.

Lewis Hamilton to finish top six (-350)

  • Mercedes still has an extremely finicky car but is bringing upgrades to the track this weekend as it looks to beat Ferrari for No. 2 in the constructor’s standings.

Sergio Perez to finish in the top three (-135)

  • With Verstappen’s title clinched (or all but clinched) and the constructor’s title already locked up, we wouldn’t be surprised if Perez has a great race without any pressure.

Mercedes to finish ahead of Ferrari (+100)

  • Ferrari is -140 to have a car finish ahead of Mercedes despite Hamilton having better odds to win than Leclerc, and George Russell having better odds to win than Carlos Sainz. We’re going with the order of the winner’s odds here.

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris to finish 1-2 (+175)

  • We thought about doubling down on the Sergio Perez bet with a Verstappen/Perez top two at the same odds, but we’ll go with McLaren here and see if we can get the top three finishers correct.

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