Analysis: Five key battles from the final four F1 races

The last four grands prix of 2016 mark the final sprint home in the Nico Rosberg/Lewis Hamilton championship battle. There are 33 points separating them and 100 still up for grabs.

Analysis: Five key battles from the final four F1 races
Podium: race winner Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1, third place Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF16-H and team mate Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF16-H battle for position
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF16-H
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing celebrates his second position on the podium
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12 leads Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF16-H and Jolyon Palmer, Renault Sport F1 Team RS16
(L to R): Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull Motorsport Consultant with Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal and Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11
Esteban Ocon, Manor Racing MRT05
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 and team mate Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 celebrate the Constructors' title with Niki Lauda, Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman; Toto Wolff, Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director; and the team
Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India F1 VJM09
Felipe Massa, Williams FW38
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari celebrates his third position in qualifying parc ferme
Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12
Pascal Wehrlein, Manor Racing
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF16-H
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12
Esteban Ocon, Manor Racing
Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India F1 VJM09
Esteban Ocon, Manor Racing MRT05

With Mercedes having already sealed the constructors’ championship to Mercedes, there is guaranteed to be some fascinating drama in Austin, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

But Formula 1 is not just about how the fight between the Mercedes duo pans out, for there are plenty of other battles down the grid that are not as much in the public spotlight but could have huge implications over the next season.

Here we look in detail at five of the key battlegrounds for the final four races:

Ferrari versus Red Bull

Each team has 172 points theoretically still available in the four races that will conclude the championship.

So with just a 50-points advantage for Red Bull at the moment, there is clearly scope for Ferrari to recover its season.

Indeed, Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has repeatedly been clear that his outfit is not going to sit back. “We will not give up,” he has declared time and again.

But the reality is that over the second half of the season, Red Bull has really stepped up its game – and extending its lead over Ferrari to 50 points was in fact something not expected

It will be especially interesting to see if in Austin the SF16-H can reproduce the strong pace it had in Japan – where apart from a questionable race strategy that cost Sebastian Vettel a shot at the podium – the Ferrari was on a par with Red Bull.

There could be some exciting battles between the two teams.

Force India versus Williams

The fight for fourth place in the constructors’ championship is a very close one. With little to choose between the two outfit it is likely that this battle will end only with the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.

In the last three races, Force India has scored 26 points compared to Williams’ 13 – but with only a 10-points gap between the two outfits it is too early to believe that it is job done just yet.

Force India though must feel that it has within its grasp the best finish of the team since Vijay Mallya took over.

The characteristics of the final four races do appear to favour slightly the Force India, which has progressed well this season, but such is the closeness of the battle between the two teams it could be that incidents or accidents prove more defining in how things shake out.

Raikkonen versus Verstappen versus Vettel

While there are 33 points separating the top two in the championship, further back there is a fascinating fight involving three drivers separated by just five points.

For while Daniel Ricciardo looks pretty secure in third spot – being 42 points clear of Raikkonen – there is so little to choose between Kimi Raikkonen on 170 and Max Verstappen and Vettel who have 165.

Verstappen will of course want to leapfrog Raikkonen and secure himself fourth overall following his mid-season switch to Red Bull, but this battle between three of F1’s top drivers will get very interesting – especially between the Ferrari duo.

For although both Vettel and Raikkonen may well claim that they do not care where they finish in the standings if it is not first, this is likely to be far from the full truth.

Whichever Ferrari driver is able to come out ahead at the end of the season will hold some sway at the team, and there could be political benefits further down the line.

For Raikkonen in particular, there would be a good morale boost to end the campaign as Ferrari’s top scorer over Vettel.

Ocon versus Wehrlein

Although the fight between the two Manor drivers takes place well away from the public spotlight, that does not mean it is any less intense than those battles taking place further up the grid.

The duel between Ocon and Wehrlein has come alive in the last races with Ocon managing to qualify ahead of his teammate – now that he has better understood how to extract speed from the car and tyres over a single lap.

After the first three races together, where Wehrlein was in front of Ocon, already there had been some hasty judgements about the potential of the Frenchman who had previously been focused on his efforts as a Renault reserve driver.

But now, the fight has heated up and the importance of who comes out on top has great significance for the Mercedes junior programme.

For although there may be no championship points at stake, how they perform could decide if one of them makes the switch to Renault or Force India in 2017.

Kvyat versus Marko

The 2016 season has been one of intense emotions for Daniil Kvyat. Having brought Red Bull’s first podium of the season at the Chinese Grand Prix, just two races later he had to face difficulties after getting relegated to Toro Rosso.

At that point, it appeared that his fate was sealed come the end of the season as it would have been most logical for Red Bull to move Kvyat aside and promote junior Pierre Gasly for 2017.

But Kvyat has not rolled over easily and, despite some difficulties early on, he has found a sweet spot with the Toro Rosso car that has enabled him to perform as well as teammate Carlos Sainz in Singapore and Japan.

If he can continue this run of form until the end of the season then it will be all but certain that he will retain his spot at Toro Rosso for next year.

But the decision – and then what to do with Gasly – will be entirely down to Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko.

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