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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Brazilian Grand Prix talking points: Max Verstappen looks to maintain form as champion Lewis Hamilton aims to end season on high

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have not won a race since July and that is unlikely to change on Sunday in Sao Paulo, while it is a second goodbye at his home event for Felipe Massa.

Max Verstappen has won two of the past five races in Formula One and will be confident of challenging for further wins in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Moises Castillo / AP Photo
Max Verstappen has won two of the past five races in Formula One and will be confident of challenging for further wins in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Moises Castillo / AP Photo

The penultimate round of the Formula One season, the Brazilian Grand Prix, takes place on Sunday in Sao Paulo, with the race starting at 8pm UAE time.

Ahead of Friday's practice, here are the main talking points.

Verstappen the man in form

Max Verstappen, like most of the F1 grid, will be glad to see the winter break after the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.

But he is also likely to be disappointed the season is ending at a point when he is the form man in the series.

For most of 2017 the Red Bull Racing driver has had a miserable time, in terms of race results, as a mixture of bad luck with mechanical failures and being embroiled in incidents with other cars saw him score only 68 points.

In the past four races he has amassed 80 points thanks to wins in Malaysia and Mexico and a second-place finish in Japan.

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The impressive thing is both victories were achieved on merit, and he was close to winning in Japan too as he pressured Lewis Hamilton throughout at Suzuka.

Even after starting at the back at the United States Grand Prix he finished fourth, and would have been on the podium had he not been penalised by stewards for exceeding track limits in passing Kimi Raikkonen.

The momentum is with Verstappen and he will believe he can maintain it in Brazil, a place where he wowed in the wet 12 months ago on his way to third.

If Verstappen keeps this form up at the start of next year, and Red Bull can give him a fast and reliable package, he will be a serious threat to Hamilton's bid for a fifth world title.

More success in Brazil, and then in Abu Dhabi, will only underline his championship potential.

A post shared by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

Hamilton needs to get momentum back

Hamilton sealed his fourth world title with an underwhelming ninth-place finish in Mexico, and he will want to end the season on a high. Not just for personal gain, but to prevent Verstappen and Vettel gaining confidence going into 2018.

There is no doubt that Ferrari and Red Bull have closed in on Mercedes this year, and Hamilton has had to put in some of the best performances of his career to prevail.

He will know luck went his way in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, and the fact he clinched the title with two races remaining does not tell the whole story of how close the championship race was this season.

The long start-finish straight and the high-speed nature of the Sao Paulo track should play to Mercedes' strengths and win No 10 of 2017 for Hamilton, with the pressure off, should be very achievable.

Ferrari in danger of underwhelming end

In many ways Mexico summed up the second half of Sebastian Vettel’s season: quick at times, but one error, when he broke his front wing on the rear of Hamilton’s car at the start, scuppered his chances of victory.

Ferrari have had their most competitive season, in terms of genuine pace, for a decade and yet through a mixture of unreliability and driver errors have still fallen short of Mercedes.

Vettel has not won since Hungary in July, seven races ago, and he really needs another victory before the end of the season to prevent it feeling like an anti-climax.

Ferrari have not won at Interlagos since 2008 so this may be a tall order, but the team and Vettel owe it to themselves not to allow this season to peter out. They have been too good for that to happen.

A post shared by Felipe Massa (@massafelipe19) on

Second home farewell for Massa

It will be hard for Williams driver Felipe Massa to top last year's goodbye in Brazil.

The Brazilian thought he was done with F1 this time last year and announced his retirement. After crashing out in the rain he was given a guard of honour by mechanics of various teams in the pitlane before a tearful embrace with his family.

Subsequently Massa was re-signed by Williams after Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes, but he has confirmed he will retire - and stick to it this time - when this season finishes.

Massa, a winner here twice before, in 2006 and 2008, is the last Brazilian to win his home race, but a hat-trick is very unlikely.

A points finish in the top 10 would certainly be a nice send-off for him and would be the most popular result of the weekend.