The next race on the Formula 1 calendar will take place in Mexico City where Lewis Hamilton is expected to claim his fourth world championship.
The paddock only wrapped up the US Grand Prix a few short days ago and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finds himself in an unenviable situation.
Vettel was desperate for a win in Austin to keep his title aspirations alive and after overtaking Hamilton at the start it looked possible for a brief time. But Ferrari faded as the race wore on and Mercedes comfortably took victory with a superior pace advantage.
Title within reach for Hamilton
Hamilton’s fifth win in the last six races extends his lead to 66 points with just 75 up for grabs over the remaining three races. It means that Hamilton just needs to finish in the top five to take the title and in reality his main obstacle is a mechanical problem rather than a poor performance.
Mercedes has been remarkably reliable this year but Hamilton has clocked up a good amount of miles on his current engine that he has been running since the Belgian Grand Prix in August. On the flipside, Vettel has been beset with reliability issues –two of his three Asian races were ruined because of engine issues – but that does mean he has a newer engine and, hopefully, less likelihood of a brake down.
A thoroughly dejected Sebastian Vettel left Austin knowing that the title fight is now out of his hands. Hoping for Hamilton to have some misfortunate in Mexico is his only bet but the German still needs to win. And that’s where the track comes into play.
Is it a Mercedes or Ferrari track?
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez might not be renowned for its technical brilliance but the atmosphere around the circuit is revered among spectators.
The track’s spirit touches the emotions while the story of brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, after which the circuit is named, stirs pride through the Mexicans.
It’s now an updated version of the track at the same location that hosted Formula 1 from 1986 to 1992 although, in Vettel’s words, it is now a “bit so-so” after the challenge of the Esses were taken out by a reprofiling.
With that said, few cannot be moved by the technically demanding Peraltda curve in the final sector, with drivers racing between the towering grandstands as they power on to the start/finish line.
“The standout is the final two corners and driving through the stadium,” says Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg. “That’s really cool, it’s always loud and a real goose bumps moment.”
The overall layout of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez should on paper better suit Mercedes with the three long straights and high-speed looping corners making it a low downforce track at sea level.
But the difference at Mexico is the altitude. Sitting 2,250m (7,400ft) above sea level, the thinner air means the wings of a Formula 1 car produces less downforce and teams run their cars in maximum downforce trim like they would at tight, twisty circuits like Monaco and Hungary. And it is at these circuits that Ferrari excelled and Mercedes struggled.
Paddy Lowe from Williams explains: “Due to the altitude there is about 80 percent normal atmospheric pressure. The effect of this is that we run the most extreme downforce bodywork that we have available, but it only delivers the level of downforce that we would typically run at Monza, which is a very high-speed circuit. Therefore, the cars are very light on downforce which makes it particularly challenging for the drivers and we often see a lot of mistakes, leading to some interesting races.”
This opening gives Vettel a slight hope of keeping the title battle alive by taking the victory while Hamilton makes an unusual mistake or succumbs to engine problems. Either way, the Mexican Grand Prix is set to be an exciting encounter and perhaps history-making.