Lewis Hamilton has a chance to wrap up his sixth world championship at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver has sealed the title at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the last two years, and will make it three in a row if he outscores teammate Valtteri Bottas by 12 points or more on Sunday.
Since F1 returned to Mexico in 2015, Hamilton has won just once, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen proving to be the driver to beat for the last two seasons.
3 Legs 4 Wheels looks ahead to the 18th race of the 2019 Formula 1 season:
Last year’s race:
Daniel Ricciardo started the race on pole position, but the Australian’s poor run of form and luck in the second half of the 2018 campaign continued as he was slow off the grid, gifting his teammate the lead by the first corner.
Verstappen and Ricciardo looked to be heading for a Red Bull 1-2, but the now-Renault driver’s car started to smoke with 10 laps to go, as a hydraulics issue forced him out of the race, promoting Sebastian Vettel to second and giving Kimi Raikkonen the final spot on the podium.
It was a short race for Fernando Alonso, as the McLaren driver sustained damage early on after running over discarded carbon fibre from Esteban Ocon’s, forcing him to retire on lap three, while there was disappointing for the home fans as a braking problem cut Sergio Perez’s day short.
Perhaps the most significant result of the race was Hamilton’s fourth-placed finish, which was enough to hand the Briton the title, having missed out the previous week in Texas.
Vettel had pressed to close the gap to Verstappen in the final few laps as the Dutchman turned down his engine following his teammate’s issues, with the Ferrari man knowing victory would have taken the title race to Brazil, but the four-time champion couldn’t catch the Red Bull.
The Mexico City circuit is 4.304km long and consists of 15 corners, making it the second shortest track on the current calendar, behind only Monaco.
The FIA reports there haven’t been any significant changes to the track layout since last year’s race aside from routine maintenance.
However, there has been the addition of a third DRS zone, which should give the drivers more opportunities to overtake. Just two detection zones will be used, with the first allowing the racers to open their rear wings after turn 11, while the second gives them the advantage on the start/finish straight and after turn 3.
Pirelli has brought its middle three dry compounds to this race – the C2, C3 and C4. Mercedes, Ferrari and Toro Rosso seem to be favouring the mediums, with the three teams having opted for fewer softs than the rest of the grids.
A wide range of strategies could be use up and down the grid, with Red Bull going for nine sets of softs, along with Renault, Haas and Williams. As a result, Robert Kubica and Nico Hulkenberg have just two sets of mediums, while others elsewhere have up to five.
The drivers at the front of the field all made two stops last year, while Bottas even came in for a third new set of tyres late on. Several drivers from the midfield teams managed to get in the points making a one-stop strategy work, but the Mercedes cars both seemed to struggle with graining.
Memorable for perhaps all the wrong reasons, the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix podium had to be sorted out in the stewards room.
There was close racing between Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo for the final spot on the rostrum, with the Dutchman initially crossing the line ahead of the German, with his Red Bull teammate taking fifth.
However, Verstappen was found to have cut a corner and not given the place up to Vettel, giving him a five second penalty to drop him behind the Ferrari. Vettel also claimed Verstappen’s driving had backed him into Ricciardo, who he then had to defend against.
Vettel thought the Verstappen penalty had given him third, and he went to take his place in the podium room, but the stewards hadn’t finished their work as the four-time drivers’ champion also picked up a time penalty. His 10-second addition was for a dangerous move under braking while battling Ricciardo, and saw the Australian promoted to third after crossing the line fifth.
Statistics and form:
Max Verstappen will be the driver everyone will be watching this weekend, with the Dutchman having won here the last two years. He hasn’t had the best run coming into this weekend though, with two retirements and just one podium since the summer break.
Verstappen has come under increasing pressure from his teammate since Alexander Albon replaced Pierre Gasly on the other side of the Red Bull garage. Verstappen only outqualified the Thai driver in Japan because he set his lap first, as the two drivers set an identical time, while Albon has outscored his more experienced teammate since they teamed up ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix.
Hamilton comes into this race without a pole position from his last six outings, his longest run since 2015. Mercedes may be looking to Bottas for this race, as the Finn showed his class in Japan last time out, but he’s never been in the top three in Mexico.
Carlos Sainz has proved the best of the rest for much of the season, with his fifth place in Japan moving him up to 6th in the drivers’ standings. Mexico hasn’t proved a happy hunting ground for the Spaniard though, as he failed to finish in the points in his two outings with Toro Rosso before suffering two retirements with Renault at this track.
No team dreads the trip to Mexico more than Haas though, as Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were the last two classified finishers last year, and had similar issues in their debut season in 2016. Magnussen did pick up a couple of points in 2017, but this is typically a race to forget for the American team.
You can hear more of our thoughts ahead of this week’s race our latest podcast episode, and tell us who you think will be on the podium on Sunday. You can also check out our predictions for this race, and joins us for our live qualifying and race day blogs. Get in touch via Twitter or Facebook to let us know what you think about this weekend’s action.