Lewis Hamilton will have a second bite at the title cherry in Mexico where, sorry Ferrari fans, only a disaster on the day can delay the inevitable.
Such is his lead in the championship that a P7 on the day would see him wrap up the title in Mexico for the second year in a row. It would be his fifth overall.
Don’t however discount that disaster.
For weeks now we’ve had Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff repeatedly warning that it is not over until the math says it is and you can’t blame him given last year’s Mexico GP decider.
Title rival Sebastian Vettel started on pole ahead of Max Verstappen and Hamilton. The Red Bull driver attacked, Vettel bumped into him and bounced into Hamilton. Vettel had to pit for a new front wing while Hamilton needed new tyres after suffering a puncture.
They fell to the back of the field with Vettel recovering to P4 and Hamilton to P9. It was, however, enough to hand the Brit title number four.
That was Hamilton’s worst showing in the three years since the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City returned to the calendar in 2015. He was P2 the first year and victorious the second. Vettel has yet to reach the podium.
The Ferrari driver has made life tough for himself of late with his latest on-track error coming as recently as the United States GP’s opening lap. It wasn’t the first of the season, it likely won’t be the last.
But given that Kimi Raikkonen has shown that the SF71H is back to being a race winner, even if Vettel can’t prevent Hamilton from winning the title, a wheel-to-wheel battle between the protagonists would go some way towards soothing ruffled red feathers.
There is more at play this Sunday than just the race to become five-time World Champion with Red Bull Racing earmarking this race as the one they have a realistic chance of winning.
Verstappen did so last season while the year prior he was on course for the podium only to be penalised five seconds for cutting a corner late in the race to stay ahead of Vettel. That put the Ferrari driver up into third place, however, moments later he was hit with a 10-second penalty for driving dangerously as he moved under braking to block Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie claimed third.
With Verstappen recently stating that some people inside the Red Bull camp are making “jokes” about Ricciardo’s ongoing reliability troubles, he will be wanting the last laugh. And maybe a final trophy before he heads off to Renault.
Last time out in Austin his soon-to-be-team scored a bit of breathing room in the battle for ‘best of the rest’ in the standings as they claimed a first double points-haul in three races to edge 22 points clear of Haas.
Behind them McLaren are trying to hold off Force India but that seems unlikely given that the Woking hasn’t scored in three races while Force India have bagged five top-ten results. But as Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne continue their farewell tour, the Spaniard will be wanting to add to his 1,899 points tally while point number 23 would a good result for Vandoorne.
With rain forecast for both qualifying and the grand prix, although only a 30% chance on Sunday, the sell-out crowd can look forward to an intriguing race. Here’s hoping it is decided on the track with a three-way fight and not in the stewards’ office.
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