It was perhaps something of a shock that Lewis Hamilton wasn’t able to wrap up a Juan Manuel Fangio-equalling fifth world title in Austin, Texas on a circuit he has practically made his own over recent years.
Before last Sunday’s US Grand Prix, the Mercedes ‘Captain America’ had won the last four grands prix around the Circuit of the Americas and was a red hot favourite to win once again after taking pole position from Kimi Raikkonen.
Yet in Formula One, things don’t always go according to plan and after his second stop late in the race, try as he might, the Englishman couldn’t find a way past Max Verstappen as Raikkonen took a popular win.
Things could have been worse. It’s arguable that if title rival Sebastian Vettel hadn’t pitched into yet another spin on the opening lap, he may have narrowed the points deficit. As it is, Hamilton only needs to finish seventh in Mexico City, even if Vettel wins, to take another title.
The Mexican Grand Prix weekend takes place during the ‘Dia de los Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) holiday period but is there anything that could spook Hamilton into not taking the title?
The biggest technical challenge for teams is the altitude and how it affects drag and downforce, 2,200 metres above sea level. This shouldn’t be too much of a worry for Mercedes, whose aero package has proven mightily efficient on a variety of circuit configurations this season. But so has Ferrari.
More of a worry could be rising brake temperatures. The 2.6-mile long Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Circuit features several tough braking points over its 17 turns. This, added to the fact that the air is thinner at altitude, means there is less available to cool those brakes.
Again, for Hamilton, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. He knows he doesn’t have to be ultra-aggressive in order to take the title, although he would rather be in clean air at the front of the field rather than dicing it out in traffic behind the leaders.
In terms of tyre allocation for Mexico, Mercedes and Ferrari are mirroring one another, Hamilton and Vettel both bringing eight pink hyper-soft tyres, three purple ultra-softs and two red super-soft sets.
The big question, as always, is whether or not drivers will opt for a one stop or two stop race and Friday’s practice data will determine which is the quicker way to go. If last year’s race is any guide, the low degradation levels around the circuit points to a one-stopper. But with grippier, softer and quicker wearing tyres allocated this year, that could all change and two stops is certainly possible.
And what about using history as a guide? Hamilton won here in 2016 but despite a strong end to the season, lost out to teammate Nico Rosberg in the title battle. The tables were turned last year, Hamilton taking the title despite finishing only ninth after suffering a puncture after being hit by Vettel.
For Vettel, getting into another tangle with Hamilton, or any other driver for that matter, is something he simply cannot afford to do.
Of course, the Mexican Grand Prix is also the home race for Sergio Perez and thousands of fans will be packing out the grandstands to cheer on the Racing Point Force India driver.
And with the team’s impressive recent run of results, there is no reason to suggest that the home fans won’t be going home happy.
“Racing in Mexico is the highlight of the season for me,” commented Perez. “The excitement each time we go back there is the same. When I see the busy grandstands, I feel very proud and the support from the people is fantastic. The energy of the crowd really motivates me and the drivers’ parade is always a very emotional moment.
“It’s an extremely busy weekend for everybody: me, my team, the sponsors, but it’s still the best week of the entire season. To have my family and friends around me helps make this race even more special. I really want to give everybody a strong result to celebrate on Sunday.”
Top image: 2017 Mexican Grand Prix. © Charles Coates/Williams.