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F1 Preview: 2016 Mexican Grand Prix

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12 months on from the victory that, at the time, seemed merely academical, Nico Rosberg returns to Mexico City with his first Formula 1 drivers’ title within reach.

Hundreds of thousands of fans packed into the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez last November to welcome F1 back after a 23-year absence from Mexico, making the grand prix one of the events of the season.

The on-track race offered little in the way of drama. Fresh from wrapping up his third F1 title one week earlier in Austin, Texas, second place was by no means a bad result for Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg’s win, in the grand scheme of things, seemed meaningless.

Yet come this year’s race in Mexico City, that victory must be considered as part of the transformation that Rosberg has undergone in the past 12 months. The trio of wins to close out 2015 gave him a boost heading into the winter that carried over in the new season; they were important.

Rosberg’s lead may have been cut from 33 to 26 points last weekend in Austin after Hamilton’s victory, but he need not panic. Two seconds and a third in the remaining three races will still be enough to clinch him a maiden F1 crown.

Can Rosberg take another step towards the title in Mexico? Will Hamilton’s revival continue? Or, as is mathematically possible, will we be crowning a world champion on Sunday?

Here is our complete grand prix preview.

2016 Mexican Grand Prix – Talking Points

Rosberg’s ‘one race at a time’ approach to continue

Nico Rosberg may be within three good results of his first F1 title, but the German has long insisted that he is taking things ‘one race at a time’. His comments are perhaps a little tiresome, yet the approach is working well.

The Rosberg we saw on-track in Austin was a little less aggressive than he has been at earlier points in the year. Off the line, he chose to follow Hamilton’s line around the first corner instead of trying to dive up the inside – which, ironically, was something he fell victim to when Daniel Ricciardo jumped up to second.

So will Rosberg take a similar approach – don’t try and win the race off the start, just make sure you don’t lose it – in Mexico?

Pressure on or pressure off for Hamilton?

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Austin last weekend broke a dry spell of form that had seen him go within a win since the end of July. While the title is still out of his hands, it did at least ensure that he arrives in Mexico with momentum; a key word in this year’s title race.

The added pressure for Hamilton this weekend is that a failure to score points could see Rosberg be crowned champion, should the German go on to win the race also. So, a bit like Rosberg, he must strike a balance between pushing hard for victory while also ensuring he finishes the race.

Pressure makes diamonds and bursts pipes. Will Hamilton thrive with the stakes raised once again this weekend in Mexico?

Ricciardo, Verstappen aim to have a say in title race

Red Bull’s resurgence has arguably been one of the stories of 2016. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have hit the top step of the podium, and, as seen last time out in Austin, both have the pace to get in the mix with the Mercedes drivers – and possibly split them.

Right now, Ricciardo and Verstappen are Hamilton’s best friends. He needs their help if he is to stand any realistic chance of winning the world championship without trouble striking Rosberg’s car. if Austin is anything to go by, when Rosberg lucked in with the Virtual Safety Car to get back ahead of Ricciardo, it’s more than possible.

The high-speed nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez should play into Mercedes’ hands, but it would be foolish to rule the Red Bulls out of playing a part in the title race this weekend.

Points drought ended, Haas turns focus to consistency

Haas F1 Team’s first home grand prix weekend in Austin proved to be an odd one. While Romain Grosjean was able to finish the race 10th and snap a points drought for the team that dated back to the beginning of July, the rest of the weekend had gone far from smoothly.

Issues throughout practice left Grosjean and teammate Esteban Gutierrez running blind heading into qualifying, with the recurring brake issues the team is facing forcing the latter into retirement from the race.

Gutierrez faces a big weekend in Mexico. It will be the first time he is racing in front of his home fans, and with his own points drought still stretching back to the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday would be the perfect time to get back into the top 10.

Mexico bids to emulate last year’s party

Last year’s Mexican Grand Prix was the event of the season. Packed grandstands, a vibrant atmosphere and an infectious passion made for a roaring comeback for the sport at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

The battle for the organizers this year is emulating and even trying to better last year’s event. Ticket sales are thought to be up even on 2015. With Gutierrez joining fellow Mexican Sergio Perez on the grid, there is more home interest as well.

Perez has hit the podium twice in 2016 (Monaco and Baku), and with Force India looking more and more at ease in fourth in the constructors’ championship, there is nothing to rule him out of adding to that haul, should things fall his way. And just imagine the celebrations that would then follow.

2016 Mexican Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
Corners: 17
Lap Record: Nico Rosberg 1:20.521 (2015)
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:19.480
2015 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:20.521
DRS Zones: T17 to T1; T3 to T4

2016 Mexican Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports app 11am ET 10/28
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 3pm ET 10/28
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 11am ET 10/29
Qualifying: NBCSN 2pm ET 10/29
Race: NBC 2:30pm ET 10/30 (F1 Extra on NBC Sports app from 5pm ET).

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).