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F1 Preview: 2017 Mexican Grand Prix

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has established itself as one of the highlight races of the season due to its buzzing, unique atmosphere and party vibe.

This weekend is likely to see festivities reach a new height as Lewis Hamilton prepares to be crowned F1 world champion for a fourth time, needing only a top-five finish to reclaim the crown he lost to Nico Rosberg last year.

Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel knows he must win all of the final three races to stand any chance of denying Hamilton a fourth crown, having seen his team capitulate in both title races over the last two months.

With all of the signs pointing to a Hamilton coronation, Sunday’s race in Mexico City is likely to be one that goes down in F1 history.

Here are the key talking points heading into the Mexican Grand Prix weekend.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – Talking Points

How will Hamilton be crowned champion?

Lewis Hamilton’s 66-point advantage means the question is when, not if, he will be crowned world champion for a fourth time and move clear as the most successful British driver in F1 history.

A top-five finish will do the job for Hamilton at any of the final three races, but his recent form – five wins in the last six races – suggests it will be in Mexico on Sunday.

Hamilton has finished outside of the top five just once this season, taking P7 at Monaco after dropping out in Q2 on Saturday, and Mercedes’ reliability has been near-bulletproof through this year. Naturally, though, there is a first time for everything…

The unique nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez being some 2,200 meters above sea level means teams can run high-downforce setups with big wings, theoretically playing into the hands of both Ferrari and Red Bull.

Alas, even if Mercedes were firmly the third-fastest team in Mexico, you could count on Hamilton to be the leading Silver Arrow to cross the line in fifth behind the pairs of Ferraris and Red Bulls ahead.

Hamilton isn’t one to seal the deal by doing just enough though – he wants to win this title in style. Even if a win is not forthcoming, for the sake of the celebrations, a podium finish would be fitting as a way to clinch the title so he can appear in front of the passionate Mexican crowd packing out the Foro Sol stadium section.

Ferrari, Red Bull look for late-season success

The titles may have been pretty much settled, but there are still 75 points and three race wins up for grabs before the end of the season, giving Ferrari and Red Bull the chance to finish on a high and take the fight to Mercedes up front.

All three of the remaining circuits hold possibilities for the chasing teams, with the high-downforce requirements for Mexico and Abu Dhabi, in particular, playing to their strengths.

Malaysia proved that both teams are capable of getting an edge over Mercedes on merit, even if we were robbed of a straight fight between Red Bull and Ferrari at Sepang due to the latter’s reliability issues.

One year on from the fraught battle between the two teams to complete the podium, could they be going toe-to-toe for the top step this year?

Hartley aims to build on solid debut

The news that Toro Rosso had elected to stick with Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley until the end of the season and dump Daniil Kvyat for good may have not been surprising, yet it was nevertheless highly significant when it comes to the 2018 driver market.

Hartley’s planned one-off appearance saw him put in a solid display en route to P13 in his first single-seater race for five years, and the New Zealander will be aiming to build upon that this weekend.

Just as at the Circuit of The Americas, Hartley will be racing on a track he knows this weekend from his FIA World Endurance Championship duties, but now has the added experience of being in a car he knows.

His selection of a permanent number (No. 28) and Ed Jones’ signing for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series – a seat Hartley was nailed on for – all points to an extended future for Hartley with Toro Rosso.

Nevertheless, he’ll be keen to impress once again this weekend in Mexico.

Can Renault continue its climb?

Much as F1 will be hitting new altitudes this weekend in Mexico, Renault will be aiming to do the same in the constructors’ championship as it breathes fresh life into its season following Carlos Sainz Jr.’s arrival.

Sainz took to his new Renault R.S.17 car like a duck to water on debut in Austin, charging to P7 in the race to lift the French manufacturer above Haas in the constructors’ standings.

Renault has been developing rapidly this season, meaning its pre-season target of P5 is still not out of reach with three races to go.

Next on the team’s hit-list is Toro Rosso, just five points ahead in sixth, and given the Red Bull B-squad will be fielding a line-up with a combined three races worth of experience, Renault will fancy its chances of getting the jump by the season’s end.

The fight for the midfield positions may not be of great interest to the casual fan, yet for the team’s involved, there are millions of dollars in prize money up for grabs.

Fuerza Mexico

This year’s Mexican Grand Prix may be signifcant for F1 in terms of the title race, but it holds a far greater meaning for the people of Mexico City, coming just over one month since the devastating earthquake that claimed 370 lives and levelled a number of buildings.

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was unharmed by the earthquake, meaning the race could go ahead as planned, and it will be a sign of strength from Mexico City as over 300,000 fans pack out the grandstands.

Sergio Perez will be flying the flag on home soil once again, having enjoyed another strong year with Force India through 2017, and fans attending the race will dare to dream of a popular podium finish in a nation with a rich motorsport history.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales headed to Mexico City earlier this year to get a flavor of the city and explore the nation’s racing heart. You can watch the film they produced here.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
Corners: 17
Lap Record: Nico Rosberg 1:20.521 (2015)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:18.704
2016 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:21.134
DRS Zones: T17 to T1, T3 to T4

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”