Don’t expect Lewis Hamilton to take foot off the pedal as championship glory beckons

Lewis Hamilton knows that all he needs to do in Mexico this weekend to secure a fifth world championship is to finish seventh, even if arch-rival Sebastian Vettel wins. And that the crown will be his if Vettel finishes anywhere but first.

The Briton holds a 70-point lead over the German with three races remaining and 75 more still on the table.

Last year, after a touch with Vettel on the opening lap caused a puncture, Hamilton battled back to take ninth place and his fourth crown.

But just as in Austin last weekend, where he finished third after two pit stops to everyone else’s one, Hamilton says he won’t be thinking of the title but simply about winning. “I’m here to win the race,” is his simple mantra, on the basis that winning each race is everything and that if you do that, the other things will follow.


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But his progress in Austin was hampered by an early pit stop and rear-tyre blistering which forced Mercedes into the second stop, and later Hamilton spoke of handling difficulties associated with the lack of running time due to the rain on Friday. But there was also a problem he did not elect to identify, which may have been Mercedes’ decision not to run their ’aerodynamic’ rear wheels which help to cool the rear tyres. 

These have been ratified by the FIA, but Mercedes played safe and did not use them after complaints from Ferrari who believe them to have an aerodynamic effect that is against the rules.

This is ironic, of course, given that Mercedes and several other teams have been unhappy ever since Monaco about Ferrari’s ‘twin battery’ system. This, too, has been ratified by the FIA, but in that instance rival teams, though not satisfied about that, chose not to make further waves.

It remains to be seen which specification the Mercedes run this weekend, but Hamilton himself is looking forward to a similar battle to the one he had with winner Kimi Raikkonen and runner-up Max Verstappen in the closing laps of the US GP last Sunday.

“I really enjoyed the race,” Hamilton said. “Kimi drove great, Max drove great. Seeing that there was three of us, at one point there was me and Kimi wheel-to-wheel, I thought it was awesome. I wish it went for longer in that first stint, and the next time it happened.

“And then at the end with us three in that train I wished the race could continue, because it was awesome, and I was hoping we might get to manoeuvre.”

While Vettel must win to keep his slim title chances alive, the other dangerman for him apart from Hamilton is likely to be 2017 winner Max Verstappen. It was while being overtaken by the Dutchman on the opening lap that Vettel collided with the Red Bull, sustaining front wing damage, and then collided with Hamilton and punctured the Briton’s tyre. 

The Red Bull likes Mexico’s higher altitude, and Verstappen will be looking to run his own race and become the first back-to-back winner at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

The rarefied air, around 25 per cent less dense, has a significant effect on aerodynamics. Normally, teams run maximum downforce here but overall the effect is less than they have at Monza. The situation is a bit different for the engines, as the turbo can compensate for the less dense air and therefore reduce relative power loss.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to Mexico as the circuit tends to suit our car better than others,” Verstappen said. “Last year I came away with a win, which felt amazing. I put in a good move at the start and thereafter managed to keep out front for the remainder of the race. The atmosphere inside the stadium section is always good when you are out on track, but last year being on the podium it was next level. It turns into a party atmosphere pretty much as soon as the race is finished, so I’m hoping to be back up there this year.”

But after his wheel-to-wheel fight with Hamilton last week, he admitted that when you are racing another driver who has a championship at stake, other considerations come into play. “I think at the end of the day you always try to be sensible,” he said.

That may be good news for Vettel, if they end up reprising their 2017 skirmish on the opening lap.

There may be an unexpected factor in the mix this weekend, where the organisers report that the race is already a sell-out. It has never rained for a Mexican GP, but the bad weather that affected early running in Austin is heading to Mexico City, where storms are forecast for almost every day.

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