While Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes may have already captured both Formula 1 titles for 2017, the final two races of the year are far from being dead rubbers as attention quickly turns to next season.
Nico Rosberg proved with his charge to the 2016 F1 title just how important the late-season races can be to build momentum, having won the final three rounds in 2015 as Mercedes teammate Hamilton took his eye off the boil.
Hamilton will be eager to avoid making the same mistakes this time around, particularly with stiffer competition in the form of both Ferrari and Red Bull as they plot their assault on both championships in 2018.
Here are the key talking points heading into this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Hamilton looks to tighten up, finish strongly
Lewis Hamilton’s misfortune played a big role in his title defeat to Nico Rosberg in 2016, but there is a decent argument for his distractions off-track, the extended celebrations of a third title win and the subsequent downturn in form on-track being a key factor in swinging momentum in his teammate’s favor.
Rosberg convincingly won the last three races of the year in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi to set himself up well for a title assault in 2016, continuing the good form through the early part of the year.
Hamilton may be currently facing a “storm” back in his native Britain over leaked tax details, but he stressed his focus is on finishing the season strongly even with a fourth world title sewn up.
Ferrari and Red Bull have been strong in recent races, meaning Hamilton is unlikely to have things all his own way in Brazil. A victory would unquestionably be a solid way to answer his critics and send out an early warning shot to his rivals in the 2018 title race.
Can Verstappen continue his simply lovely run?
Max Verstappen had a rotten middle part of the season, suffering a number of retirements due to technical issues on his car and on-track incidents that denied him the chance to fight at the front of the pack on a regular basis.
But things have since turned around. Two wins in the last four races and a second-place finish in Japan have given Verstappen a huge amount of momentum, with his dominant victory in Mexico arguably making him the man to beat in Brazil this weekend.
Verstappen has quipped over team radio about things being “simply lovely”, and they definitely are right now. The Red Bull RB13 car is stronger than ever, giving the team the chance to finish on a high.
One year on from his star display in the rain, you can be sure that Verstappen has plenty in the tank still to produce another headline performance and fight for victory again.
Ferrari bids to prove pace after setbacks
Ferrari’s collapse over the Asian flyaways caused its capitulation in the title race, with the lack of reliability robbing us not only of a closer fight for the championship, but also in the races themselves.
Ferrari’s pace looked very, very strong in Malaysia, Japan and Mexico, yet various incidents and reliability issues meant we never got the chance to see just how the team’s SF70H car stacked up against Mercedes and Red Bull’s runners.
Vettel may have lost the championship, but he still has second place to protect from Valtteri Bottas, who is 15 points adrift in the second Mercedes. A strong end to the year will be crucial to ensure he doesn’t finish third in a two-horse race.
Just as it was 12 months ago, the Brazilian Grand Prix is being talked up as Felipe Massa’s final F1 appearance on home soil – only this time, it definitely will be.
Massa’s surprise return this year has offered him another chance to delight the home crowd at Interlagos, but this time around it will be a farewell after confirming last week he would be retiring at the end of the season.
Massa’s form is such that a strong result to sign off on may only be a finish as high as seventh or eighth, yet you can be sure the Williams driver will be giving his all to impress at the track he grew up on and came to taste success at in F1.
Another certainty is the grace and gratitude that will flow both ways between Massa and the fans in Brazil, as seen last year after he crashed out and emotionally walked back up the pit lane draped in a national flag.
2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Lap Record: Juan Pablo Montoya 1:11.473 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft/Soft/Medium
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:10.736
2016 Fastest Lap: Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:25.305
DRS Zones: T15 to T1, T3 to T4
2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times