Formula 1: Mercedes coy as Lewis Hamilton chases sixth title

Formula 1: Mercedes coy as Lewis Hamilton chases sixth title

Image via Lewis Hamilton twitter: @LewisHamilton

Formula 1 arrives in Mexico with one championship decided and the other, the most important for the fans if not the prize money, still up for grabs.

Lewis Hamilton could wrap up the Drivers’ Championship in Mexico City, he only needs to take the win and the fastest lap point and have his team-mate – and only rival still standing – Valtteri Bottas finished fourth or lower.

Mercedes, though, have all but rubbished their chances of a first Mexican GP win since 2016.

Hamilton downplays his chances of success

Hamilton could be the man of the moment at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez, although this year he’ll need to finish on the podium to secure his sixth World title.

The Brit is 64 points ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Bottas and needs a top-three on the day to stand a chance of closing the deal. Then, of course, it depends on where Bottas is.

A victory for Hamilton, with the point for fastest lap, and a P4 or lower for Bottas and it is all over.

Bonus point aside, it also ends if Hamilton is second and Bottas eighth or Hamilton is third and Bottas 10th.

Hamilton, though, has not finished on the Mexican GP podium in the past two years, although both seasons it still marked the venue for his title success.

As such the Mercedes driver is wary of his chances this Sunday.

“Mexico is generally our worst race of the year because of the way our car is set up and it’s going to be a tough one for us.

“The last few have been pretty shocking, even though we’ve won the title there.

“I’m hoping for a better weekend but I think it’s going to be very hard to beat the Ferraris with those long straights.

“We have no hope of getting by on those straights, that’s for sure, but even if you look at the others, the McLarens are picking up some serious speeds on the straights, so are the Red Bulls so I think it will be a tricky one.

“I don’t anticipate it will be Mexico. I think we will be battling for a good few races.”

Ferrari are the bookies’ favourite

Many are predicting Ferrari, with its super – and potentially not entirely legal – engine is the favourites for this year’s Mexican GP win.

The Scuderia has not won in the four years that Mexico has been back on the calendar; instead it has been two apiece for Mercedes and then Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel reckons even with that engine of theirs, the high altitude of the circuit will negate their advantage.

At 2,285 metres above sea level, the air is thin at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which not only impacts the power unit and its output (less oxygen available for combustion purposes) but also the car’s downforce.

“Obviously racing at altitude has an impact on how the car feels,” explained Vettel.

“We are racing with maximum downforce level in terms of car set-up, but, since we are racing so high above sea level, the air is very thin and the cars actually produce very little downforce.

“On the long straight, I think we see the fastest top speeds of the season, which makes it difficult to manage the corners, because we’ve got so little downforce physically on the car.

“The car is moving around a lot and it’s difficult to get the tyres to work, in fact it’s hard to get the whole car to work and to get the right feel from it. It’s a relatively short lap but not an easy one.

“Over the past couple of years, we have been on an upward trend in Mexico, although Red Bull has been the team to beat. But I think the gaps between us are getting smaller, so let’s see how we get on this year.”

Twice defending champ says a third will be ‘difficult’

In 2017 and again in 2018, Verstappen clinched one of his two race wins for the year in Mexico City.

He was comfortably the man to beat in 2017, barging past Vettel at the start and receiving a whack for his efforts.

Verstappen’s RB14 escaped damaged, unlike Vettel and Hamilton’s cars, and he raced to a 20s victory ahead of Bottas.

Fast forward a year and again it was a first lap pass, this time on Daniel Ricciardo, that handed Verstappen the win. Again it was a comfortable one, 17s ahead of Vettel.

Verstappen, though, feels this year it is Ferrari who has the advantage.

“It’s a good track for us normally,” said the Red Bull driver.

“I expect it to be a little bit more difficult this year because of the Ferrari pace but I think we can still have a very good race.”

Passing bolstered by a third DRS

The characteristic of the Mexico City track, half of which is designed to favour aerodynamics especially through the stadium section and the other half very engine dependent, is set to offer an intriguing battle this season.

While Mercedes has been top dog throughout the campaign, it has been split between Red Bull and Ferrari as to who is their main challenger.

The FIA has added what it hopes will be a bit more excitement into the mix with a third DRS zone giving the drivers another shot at an easy pass.

Last year there were two; the first down the home straight and the second on the straight between Turns 3 and 4.

This year’s new third DRS is located between Sectors 2 and 3.

The detection point, the moment where a driver has to be within 1s of the car ahead, is just after Turn 9 with the DRS activating between Turns 11 and 12.

Controversy could put midfield on the podium

P1 may be a step too far, far too far to be honest, but McLaren is the most likely team to pull off a surprise by reaching the podium.

The Woking team has been best of the rest in the last three grands prix, including a fifth place for Carlos Sainz in Japan.

McLaren’s efforts could be assisted by further controversies such as 2016’s game of ‘who’s in P3’.

That year Max Verstappen crossed the line third only to be penalised for cutting a corner to stay ahead of Vettel. Vettel was elevated to third only for him to penalised for driving dangerously while defending against Ricciardo. Ricciardo, who was fifth at the chequered flag, finished third.

There was more drama a year later when Vettel, starting from pole, was overtaken by Verstappen off the line. He tried to fight back, whacked the Red Bull and then hit title rival Hamilton, damaging both cars.

They had to pit for repairs, falling to the very back of the field. Vettel recovered to P4 and Hamilton P9. Questions, though, still remain as to whether Vettel’s contact with Hamilton was deliberate.

Mexico is one of just a handful of races that, since the V6s arrived in 2014, has seen a non-Mercedes/Ferrari/Red Bull driver on the podium with Bottas P3 for Williams in 2015.

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