Lewis Hamilton continued his late revival in the fight for the 2016 Formula 1 drivers’ championship by scoring his 10th pole position of the year in qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix on Saturday.
Hamilton has entered a zen-like state in recent weeks, seemingly liberated by the fact the championship is mathematically out of his hands.
Even if he wins the final three races of the year, Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg can still clinch a maiden F1 crown with two seconds and a third.
So for Hamilton, it’s really been a case of doing his talking on-track and giving it everything he can. It’s what he did effectively in Austin last weekend, with pole and the race win; he’s halfway towards a repeat in Mexico.
You can watch the Mexican Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.
Here’s what to watch for in Mexico on Sunday.
2016 Mexican Grand Prix – What to watch for
Start tactics for Hamilton?
Lewis Hamilton may be chilled out, and he may say he’s only thinking about winning the race on Sunday, but surely some start-line tactics to deal with Nico Rosberg will be a focus. Moves such as the one he pulled off in Austin last year or in Canada this year, where he squeezed the German out and caused him to lose a handful of positions, could help revive his flat-lining championship hopes.
The run from the grid to Turn 1 is one of the longest on the F1 calendar, making the start all the more important. If Hamilton can get it right, his focus will be on how to shake Rosberg up – fairly, it must be added – and get the Red Bulls into play as his rear-gunners.
Start tactics for Rosberg?
If Hamilton is thinking about his start tactics, you can bet your bottom dollar that Rosberg is doing exactly the same thing.
The way he started in Austin was perhaps indicative of his approach to the rest of the season. Rosberg knows that you cannot win the race at Turn 1 – but you can lose it. At the Circuit of The Americas, he opted to slip in behind Hamilton and follow his line, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to dive-bomb up to second place.
So what will Rosberg do this time? Will he focus on staying second in the early stages and then putting up a fight against Hamilton? Or will he be more aggressive? Given his struggles so far this weekend, P2 would hardly be a disaster.
Strategy to be decisive as Mercedes, Ferrari go their own way
One of the big issues that pretty much all of the teams on the grid have encountered so far this weekend is tire wear. Grip levels are still relatively low at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, while the super-soft tire is only holding up for a few laps before dropping off.
As a result, Mercedes and Ferrari opted to get through Q2 on the soft tire, giving their drivers a greater choice of strategy for the race. Theoretically, a two-stop race looks most likely with running completed on the soft and medium compounds.
However, Red Bull and the teams behind will be circling to see if any gains can be made by starting on super-softs. They will be faster in the opening laps before needing to come in earlier, but then they will have fresher – and, crucially, faster – tires. That in turns piles pressure back on Mercedes and Ferrari to respond.
We saw in Austin how Rosberg nearly got caught out as Ricciardo went for an alternate strategy. Time will tell if Mercedes gets it right this time around…
Can Haas turn things around?
Despite hitting the top 10 for the first time since the middle of July last time out in Austin (a result Romain Grosjean called a miracle), Haas is under no illusions about the struggles it is currently facing. The reality of racing in F1 is biting. And hard.
Things hit a new low in Mexico on Saturday as the team suffered a double Q1 elimination, with Grosjean finishing as the slowest driver. He’ll start 21st on the grid, ahead only of Jolyon Palmer, who took no part in qualifying due to a damaged chassis.
For Esteban Gutierrez (starting 17th), there is home pride to play for also – and the small matter of a Haas contract renewal, which remains very much up-in-the-air.
Can Mexico’s home heroes impress?
Both Gutierrez and compatriot Sergio Perez struggled in qualifying on Saturday. Perez will start 12th on the grid, seven places behind Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
Perez should take heart in the fact that tire wear is a massive, massive challenge for the field this weekend. The Mexican has built himself a reputation for being one of the best on the grid at looking after his tires, boding very well for Sunday’s race.
Regardless of how Perez and Gutierrez do, though, you can count on the Mexican crowd being as vocal and vibrant as ever. We can’t wait to see that podium ceremony at Foro Sol again.
2016 Mexican Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
5. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
6. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
7. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Fernando Alonso McLaren
12. Sergio Perez Force India
13. Jenson Button McLaren
14. Kevin Magnussen Renault
15. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
16. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
17. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
18. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
19. Felipe Nasr Sauber
20. Esteban Ocon Manor
21. Romain Grosjean Haas
22. Jolyon Palmer Renault