Valtteri Bottas and the three outside drivers that could play role in F1 title race

F1: Verstappen and Hamilton verbally spar

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Formula 1 has found its mojo again as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are serving up a title challenge for the ages. Red Bull have finally manufactured a car quick enough to compete with the Mercedes expertly raced by Hamilton.

The Brit is arguably the greatest driver in the sport’s history as he is tied with Michael Schumacher for the most world championships while standing alone with the most pole positions and race wins. 

However, Verstappen has certainly stepped up his game to set up a dramatic title race with seven Grands Prix remaining.

The rivals have won 12 of the 15 races so far this season, with the Dutchman claiming seven wins to Hamilton’s five, and there have been several moments of drama.

Hamilton clipped Verstappen and sent the Red Bull crashing out of Silverstone at 180mph, and the 24-year-old got his revenge at the Italian Grand Prix.

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The Brit came out the pits and took the inside line, forcing Verstappen wide as he refused to yield. His Red Bull bounced aggressively off the kerb and landed on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes, with the seven-time world champion saved from serious injury by the halo.

While the two protagonists of the 2021 Drivers’ Championship will undoubtedly define the season as we enter the home straight, there are several other drivers on the grid that could influence the outcome.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has since said the Silver Arrows will be more aggressive going forward, which leaves the door open for Valtteri Bottas to leave his mark on the season.

Bottas is yet to win a race during an underwhelming campaign for the Finn, and he sits in third place just 12 points ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. 

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The 32-year-old has reached the podium eight times though, and his propensity to consistently finish near the top of the grid means he could well play a key part in the title race.

Ultimately, it will depend on whether Bottas – who will join Alfa Romeo to replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen – wants to help his team chase a championship or simply cruise to the end of his Mercedes career. 

Naturally, Red Bull driver and Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez will also be a key figure in the title race. 

The Mexican has endured a season filled with ups and downs, often struggling alongside his superstar partner. 

However, Perez did win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku after the Dutchman crashed out, which proves he can get the job done – although he hasn’t landed on the podium in eight races. 

Who else could influence the title race? While Ferrari have threatened, their car simply cannot compete with Mercedes and Red Bull – but McLaren’s is a lot closer. 

Norris took pole in Sochi two weeks ago before his unfortunate, heart-wrenching skid cost him victory with just two laps remaining. 

The 21-year-old proved he has the pace to compete with the big names by landing the first pole position of his career, and the form of teammate Daniel Ricciardo means the Australian could also affect the title race.

Ricciardo took the chequered flag at Monza with Norris coming home second to secure McLaren’s first one-two since the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix – and remarkably, the first such result by any team this season.

It appears McLaren have found the pace to compete at the top, which means Ricciardo and Norris could play huge roles as Verstappen and Hamilton battle for the title. 

Formula 1 returns to Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix on October 10, with Mercedes’ Hamilton holding a slender two-point lead over Verstappen.

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