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The Mexican Grand Prix Preview (30 October – 1 November, 2015)

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The Constructor’s title may have been decided in Russia and the Driver’s in U.S.A, but the Mexican Grand Prix will still have plenty to offer on its return to the F1 calendar. The race held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City will provide its own unique challenges and excitement, plus there are a lot of points still up for grabs as the driver’s jostle for the remaining championship places. Will Lewis Hamilton take his 11th victory of the season, or can anyone stop the newly-crowned champion?

Highlights from the U.S

Lewis Hamilton clinches third world title in action-packed race. Hamilton took the lead off his team-mate into Turn 1 having started in second, but then succumbed to the pressure of the Red Bull’s. He exchanged the lead with both Kvyat and Ricciardo, before losing out to Rosberg just before making his first stop. After the first round of pit stops, the Brit found himself down in 4th place, but overtook Kvyat on Lap 22 and Ricciardo on Lap 26 to put himself back into a stronger race position. When the first safety car came out, he closed right up behind Rosberg, but couldn’t catch his team-mate. He then found himself taking the lead on Lap 39 under the virtual safety car because Rosberg pitted and Mercedes didn’t want to stack their cars. This gave him track position, but could have left him vulnerable to both his team-mate and Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages of the race. However, Kvyat’s crash on Lap 43 and the resulting safety car gave him the chance to pit and get some fresh tyres. It initially dropped him back down behind Rosberg and the German had control of the race, but a costly late mistake gifted Hamilton the lead and there was no looking back from there.

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Hamilton punches the air in delight, by Takayuki Suzuki, shared via the Creative Commons License.

Nico Rosberg fails to convert another pole and gifts championship to his team-mate. Qualifying had to be cancelled on Saturday due to adverse weather conditions, and so it was run on Sunday morning instead. Packed full of incident, with plenty of spins, Rosberg was quickest at the end of Q2, before Q3 was aborted due to dangerous weather conditions, gifting the German his third pole position in a row. However, it was the usual story for Rosberg come the race- he was beaten off the line and then squeezed out at Turn 1 by his team-mate, bumping him down to fifth, yet despite fighting his way back into the lead after the first round of stops, a late ‘unforced’ error on lap 49/56 cost him the race, and thus, the 2015 championship. It should be mentioned that Rosberg was quite unlucky with the timings of the safety cars, firstly losing his 10 second lead to Hamilton and then giving his team-mate a free pit stop, however if Nico had converted his last three poles into wins, we would be looking at a very different last three races of this championship.

Sebastian Vettel clinches third place, despite starting in 13th. Vettel actually qualified in fifth on Sunday morning, however, he was demoted 10 places for a change of engine, alongside his team-mate and Valterri Bottas who also had a grid penalty for a gear-box change. Knowing he had to beat Hamilton or finish close behind him, it was imperative that he got off to a good start, and he did just that, making it up to 7th by the end of Lap 1. Vettel battled it out in the midfield with his team mate and the Toro Rosso’s and then got his Ferrari working far better than the Red Bull’s when the track dried out, making it up to fourth on Lap 24 when he passed Kvyat. Vettel made a bold call to change his tyres under the first safety car that lost him track position to begin with, but enabled him to run a lot faster than the cars around him afterwards, getting passed the Red Bull’s again immediately. He then stopped again from third place at the same time as Hamilton, which gave him some great pace, but not quite enough to over-take either Mercedes and keep the championship alive.

Red Bull goes backwards as Max Verstappen & Carlos Sainz continue to impress in their Toro Rosso’s. Due to the weather wiping out Q3, Red Bull locked out the second row of the grid and had a really good platform to attack come Sunday. The pair had some blistering early pace on the intermediate tyres, with Kvyat putting Hamilton under extreme pressure to begin with, even taking the lead at one point. However, he then dropped down to fourth having gone wide on Lap 13, letting Ricciardo and Rosberg through. Ricciardo went on to take the lead off Hamilton on Lap 15, but that was as good as it got as the pair dropped back dramatically after switching to the softer tyres. Kvyat eventually crashed out on Lap 43 from 10th place, and Ricciardo couldn’t take advantage of his fresher tyres in the closing laps after contact with Hulkenberg, losing ground, instead of making the late charge many expected.

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Kvyat held the lead momentarily before later spinning off from 10th place. Image by Takayuki Suzuki, shared via the Creative Commons License.

On the other hand, Verstappen started in eighth place and Carlos Sainz started from the back of the grid for the second weekend in a row, having crashed out in qualifying earlier that morning. The Spaniard had made it up into a point’s scoring position by Lap 5 and things were only going to get better for the junior pair. They both had fantastic battles throughout the race with Vettel, Raikkonena and Hulkenberg, before passing their senior Red Bull partners, and later scrapping with former champions and McLaren drivers Button and Alonso. The 18 year-old Verstappen eventually finishing fourth and his team-mate sixth, before dropping a place to seventh with a five second penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

McLaren grab 8 points through Button’s battling 6th place. Alonso and Button qualified 9th and 11th respectively, but it was the Brit who took the point’s home for McLaren this time. Button got off to a flying start, but Alonso was clipped and spun round at Turn 1 on the first lap, potentially jeopardising his race. However, Alonso recovered and Button avoided a lot of the early drama. Throughout the race, the veterans made a lot of passes and then benefitted from safety cars and retirements to Raikkonen, Bottas, Massa, Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Kvyat. At Lap 40, the cars were running fifth and sixth, which would have represented by far their best result of the season, but the second safety car bunched the pack back up and the midfield battle became pandemonium. Button restarted 8th with fresh tyres, with Alonso 5th, but these positions changed more than we can possibly document. With 6 laps to go they were 6th and 7th, however, Alonso incurred a problem with his power unit and dropped all the way to the back.

How Hamilton won the championship

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All Lewis Hamilton had to do to win his third world title when he got to Austin was beat his team-mate Nico Rosberg by at least two points and fellow championship contender Sebastian Vettel by at least nine. Easy. However, the Brit started from second and the U.S Grand Prix turned out to be a complete rollercoaster of a ride, where four different people held the lead at various points, and no one could really be sure of the outcome until Rosberg pipped Vettel to second place on the line.

Somehow though, it ended up with the perfect classification for Hamilton, with the Brit on top, his team-mate second (-7 points) and Vettel third (-10 points), enough for him to clinch the 2015 crown.

However, the world championship was not just won on those last 10 laps in Texas- there has been plenty of hard work and graft put in by Hamilton and his Mercedes team this year to ensure that Lewis became the first ever British back-to-back champion. He has been exquisite and dominant in equal measure, and unlike last year, this championship was not close at all- if Hamilton had not won it in Austin, he would have certainly done it in one of the next three races. And absolutely no one can argue that he doesn’t deserve it.

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Here are some of the hard facts from the 2015 season so far- Races: 16, Hamilton pole positions: 11, Hamilton race victories: 10, Hamilton wins from pole: 7, Hamilton fastest laps: 6, Hamilton points: 327 (out of a possible 400), Hamilton has led for a total of 2,977km. And let’s not forget that there are still three races left for him to improve upon those statistics as well. There are also a few other facts and figures that you might have missed along the way- Hamilton led at some point in every race until the Hungarian Grand Prix (the 10th race in), he also took pole in all but one of the first 12 races of the season.

From his results this season, the #44 driver has leapfrogged both his idol (Ayrton Senna) and his contemporary (Sebastian Vettel) in the all-time total wins table, now sitting in third on 43, behind only Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91). He has also overtaken Vettel into third for all-time pole positions (49) and has jumped up to fourth in the all-time podiums charts, currently sitting on 84, that’s four ahead of Senna, but still another 13 behind Fernando Alonso.

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The Mercedes team should be lauded for providing an incredible machine, a car that has enable Lewis Hamilton to reach his dream of three world championships, an achievement that matches the late, great Ayrton Senna. But the driver and the person must take a lot of the plaudits as well. Lewis has an aggressive racing style that has seen him get into trouble and receive criticism for over the years, but it is also exactly that facet that has won him races before, putting enough pressure on his colleagues to make mistakes that he has then benefitted from.

Last year, it was nervous throughout with the pendulum swinging between the Brit and his team-mate, but this year there has been a new calm from Hamilton, probably inspired by his new status as a multiple world champion. That has reflected in his racing as well. You can count on one hand how many driver errors Lewis has made all season, and it is that level of consistency, matched with a greater temperament and his natural ability that has seen him rise to the top of the world again this year, virtually unchallenged.

The Mexican Grand Prix

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The Mexican Grand Prix returns to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015 after a 23 year absence, heading back to Mexico City and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. The circuit has hosted all of the previous Mexican Grand Prix’s since 1962, whether it be under this name or it’s previous; Magdalena Mixhuca. After an injection of both private and government money, the facilities have been upgraded, while the notoriously bumpy track has been entirely resurfaced.

The last Mexican Grand Prix in 1992 was won by a Brit, in Nigel Mansell, who is one of only three men to have claimed two wins in Mexico after winning in 1987 as well. The others are Alain Prost who won in 1988 and 1990 and Jim Clark who won in 1963 and 1967, although it must be said that Clark also won in 1962 when it wasn’t an official Championship race.

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez is named after famed racing brothers Ricardo and Pedro and is situated in Mexico City at an altitude of approximately 7,000 ft- easily the highest altitude of any of the current tracks on the calendar. This will provide the teams and drivers with a brand new challenge as the air will be thinner, meaning less drag, but horsepower will also be diminished.

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The track layout of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez by Pitlane02, shared via the Creative Commons License.

The 4.3km track has a long front straight (1.3km) and now has 10 right-hand and seven left-hand corners after being redesigned by the famous architect Hermann Tilke. Much of the old track remains the same as before, but there is an eye-catching new section that takes the drivers through a baseball stadium.

This will be only the 16th Mexican Grand Prix and Sergio Perez of Force India will be just the third Mexican driver to race on home soil, after Moises Solana and Pedro Rodriguez, one of the two brothers the track is named after.

Predictions

Will newly-crowned Lewis Hamilton be able to motivate himself in the same way this weekend now that the pressure of the Championship is off? Will Nico Rosberg have a point to prove to give him some momentum going into next season now that his title fight is over for another year? And will Sergio Perez become the first Mexican to make it onto the podium at his home Grand Prix?

We have a feeling that Sebastian Vettel might be a major threat to the Mercedes boys this weekend as his engine upgrade seemed to bring him yet closer to the Silver Arrows in America. If he can qualify in the top four this weekend, then he may be poised to snatch a fourth win of the season for Ferrari.

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Can Vettel prevent Hamilton matching his record of 13 wins in a season?

Having said that, the high altitude will probably give Mercedes an even bigger advantage than ever, meaning that their superior top speed might be impossible to overcome on that long front straight. But, with less air, does mean reliability might come into it and although we hate predicting failure, maybe Lewis will finally get struck down with a bit of bad luck this weekend, ironically when it’s all too late for his rivals to catch him up.

Further down the field, the Mercedes powered cars of Williams, Lotus and Force India may well overpower the Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers, with Sauber and Marussia expected to be well off the pace. After the fantastic showing in Austin from McLaren, it will be a return to their usual difficulties this weekend as they have severe grid penalties once again. The McLaren car is expected to struggle in Mexico, so the team has decided to throw a load of new upgrades on, preferring to take all their penalties in one big, hit instead of spreading them out over several races.

Teams and drivers will not really know what to expect on a track that they haven’t ever raced on before, so we should be in for plenty of entertainment and controversy. Oh and the weather forecast is for rain…

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