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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

IMSA: Heavy news week leading into Thanksgiving holiday

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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After the weekend and before the Thanksgiving holiday this week, IMSA has rolled out a number of announcements itself, while IMSA could be set for further announcements in the weeks to come starting next week.

Here’s a roundup:

QUALIFYING AT ROAR SET FOR PIT POSITIONS, GARAGES AT ROLEX 24

Here are key notes from IMSA’s Monday release about how Sunday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 will take on a greater significance:

  • The pit boxes and garages each team will use during the Rolex 24 will now be allocated based on fastest qualifying times set during Sunday’s third and final day of the Roar. Each of the three WeatherTech Championship classes – Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will have a 15-minute qualifying session on Sunday, Jan. 7.
  • The fastest-qualifying Prototype will receive the first pit box on pit lane starting at pit-in and also will be assigned to the first garage in the Prototype section of the WeatherTech Championship garage. The fastest GTD car will receive the second pit box on pit lane and the first garage in the GTD section, with the fastest GTLM car receiving the third pit box and the first garage in the GTLM section.
  • New for 2018 – P and GTLM will pit together under a full course yellow. Therefore, to give class separation in the pits, P and GTLM teams are assigned pit boxes to ensure they are separated by a GTD Team.

This, coupled with the addition of the first IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda one-hour, 45-minute race with two drivers, will make this a more shaken up Roar.

REGS, REGS, GET YOUR REGS

IMSA has released the Sporting and Technical Regulations for 2018 this week. The aforementioned note about P and GTLM teams pitting together is a change from P and Prototype Challenge (PC) class cars pitting together, with GTLM and GTD together as it was this year.

Restart procedures changed will see P cars moved to the lead ahead of GT cars; this created confusion at times throughout 2017 as sometimes another class leader in PC, GTLM or GTD had been the first car behind a pace car.

Each team will be limited to one car change in-season only, subject to “force majeure.”

On the off chance a driver is racing in two cars, his or her maximum drive time will be counted cumulatively between the two cars.

There are other tweaks, of course, but most are largely procedural or within the fine print.

RATINGS REVEALED

The good news with IMSA going down from four classes to three for 2018 is that only one designated pro-am class remains in the form of GT Daytona, which requires at least one Silver (or Bronze) full-season driver alongside the designated pro. Those sneaky “Super Silvers” remain an invaluable asset for using his or her results to their benefit.

The FIA released the initial driver ratings for 2018 this week with a few changes, some young pros going up from Silver to Gold and others getting their request to get downgraded from Gold to Silver approved. Drivers have a couple weeks to appeal if they so desire.

Here’s your friendly reminder of what drivers can be in what GTD cars for the first two races at Daytona and Sebring:

  • Daytona (5 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) or five (5) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.
  • Sebring (4 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.

MAZDA KEEPS ON TESTING, CLOSES ON ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Los Angeles Auto Show, held after Thanksgiving, is a likely landing spot for Mazda Team Joest to reveal, officially, its revised “Evo” version of the Mazda RT24-P and its driver lineup for the 2018 season. While most of the Prototype class lineups (DPi and LMP2-spec cars) have been revealed, Mazda’s has been an exception. In the interim, not long after its Daytona test late last month, they’ve also been testing at Sebring.

FROM SPACE CENTER TO DOWN UNDER

Jordan Taylor undertook testing of a different kind not long ago at, of all places, the Kennedy Space Center. One of this year’s Prototype class champions was undertaking a straight line test in his No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Taylor being Taylor, the moment couldn’t pass without him winning at social media (see third tweet).

Taylor goes from down a long runway to down under, visiting his first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship race this weekend at its season finale in Newcastle.

‘MAKING OF A CHAMPION’ PIECES ROLL OUT

The fourth installment of IMSA’s “making of a champion” series highlights Jordan Taylor, who co-drove with brother Ricky to the Prototype class championship this year. These two are part of four done by IMSA so far, along with Pato O’Ward (PC) and Christina Nielsen (GTD). More should follow in the coming weeks.

SPEAKING OF CHAMPS, HINDMAN, AGOSTINI, PRESTIGE WIN LAMBORGHINI WORLD FINAL

The Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final was held last weekend at the Imola circuit in Italy and the American Prestige Performance team won the World Final overall, with co-drivers Trent Hindman and Riccardo Agostini.

The World Final brings together teams from North America, Europe and Asia that campaign the spec Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 in Super Trofeo regional competition. Hindman and Agostini got the weekend off on the right foot by winning the North American championship first, then followed it up at the World Final itself to topple all other domestic and international entries.

You might remember we profiled Hindman last month, as the 22-year-old’s star in the sports car world is clearly on the rise.

Somehow, someway, at the end of the day today we received the title 2017 Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Champions. Race 2 was not perfect and much more nerve racking than we would have hoped but fortunately in the end the job was done. I am honored to be sharing this with @rickyagostini as well as the entire @prestigeperfctr @waynetaylorracing team and I thank them for their incredible effort all year. With this result, we are the first ever American team to win the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Championship overall. 3/4 overall wins along with the Super Trofeo North America and World titles marks the end of a successful 2017 campaign. Back to reality tomorrow. Thank you all for following us along on this incredible journey.

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