Max Verstappen's victory at the Italian Grand Prix continued his seemingly unstoppable charge towards a second world title. Although Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, George Russell and Carlos Sainz are all still mathematically in the title race, Verstappen's lead at the top of the championship is now so big that it is a matter of when, and not if, he is crowned champion.
His 116-point lead over Leclerc in second place means that even if Leclerc took all of the 164 points left on offer at the final six races, Verstappen would only have to score 48 points in the same period of time to be crowned champion by the end of the season. That means he could finish in sixth place at all the remaining races and still take the title or retire from four races and secure the championship by finishing first and second at the other two.
Considering he has scored 154 points in the last six races and Leclerc has managed just 81 points, the only thing seemingly capable of stopping Verstappen is a situation where he is ruled out of five or all of the remaining six races.
The size of Verstappen's lead in the championship also means he could win the title at the next round in Singapore. Tying it up at the following race in Japan is more likely, but here's how he can make it happen at the night race on Oct. 2.
In order to be crowned champion in Singapore, Verstappen must extend his lead over his nearest rival to 138 points by the end of the race.
He currently has a 116 point lead over Leclerc, a 125 point lead over teammate Perez, a 132 point lead over Russell and a 148 point lead over Sainz. As a result, to win the title in Singapore he will need to outscore Leclerc by 22 points, Perez by 13 points, Russell by six points and lose no more than 10 points to Sainz.
The points gap to Leclerc means that, in order to secure the title, Verstappen must win the race in Singapore and then rely on the following results for his two closest rivals...
Verstappen becomes champion in Singapore if he wins and secures fastest lap with...
Leclerc finishing eighth or lower and
Perez finishing fourth or lower
Verstappen becomes champion in Singapore if he wins and doesn't secure fastest lap with...
Leclerc finishing ninth or lower regardless of fastest lap and
Perez finishing fourth or lower without the fastest lap or fifth or lower with fastest lap
Both scenarios are possible, although they require Leclerc to have an unusually poor race and Perez, in the same car as Verstappen, to finish off the podium.
If the championship stays alive after Singapore, Verstappen will be able to wrap up the title in Japan as long as he has a 112 point lead over his nearest rival at the end of the race.
That is a much more likely outcome as he already has a 116 point lead and therefore by simply maintaining or extending his advantage over the next two races, he will be crowned champion in Japan.
He can also afford to drop the following amount of points to his rivals over the next two races and still be crowned champion in Japan:
Four points to Leclerc
Nine points to Perez
16 points to Russell
44 points to Sainz
That means a victory at one of the remaining races and second place at the other will secure the title for Verstappen regardless of the results of other drivers or he can secure the title with a victory at one race, a third place at the other and a single fastest lap. Of course, he could still be crowned champion in Japan with worse results if his rivals fail to maximise their own results.
If Leclerc takes two consecutive wins over the next two races it will guarantee the title race continues beyond Suzuka and the same is true if Perez takes two consecutive victories. However, barring a remarkable run of bad luck for Verstappen, the title would likely be secured at one of the following rounds in either the United States or Mexico.
Is it unusual for a championship to be decided so early in the season?
If Verstappen wins the title in Singapore, he will do so with five races remaining in the season. The earliest a driver has even won the title was in 2002 when Michael Schumacher clinched it at the French Grand Prix in July with six races remaining (although that was in a season of 17 races and under a different points system when only the top six scored).
Nigel Mansell won in 1992 with five races remaining in a 16-race season.
Throughout Lewis Hamilton's recent period of dominance, he never wrapped up a title with more than three races remaining -- a feat he achieved in 2015 and 2020. However, prior to Mercedes' recent dominance, Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 title for Red Bull with four races remaining -- a number Schumacher also achieved in 2001 and 2004.