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What to watch for: Mexican GP (NBC, NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET)

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Lewis Hamilton looks poised to be crowned Formula 1 world champion for a fourth time on Sunday, requiring only a top-five finish to clinch the title at the Mexican Grand Prix (NBC, NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET).

MEXICO F1 LIVE STREAM

Five wins in the last six races and a collapse from Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel has seen Hamilton move into a commanding position at the top of the drivers’ championship, leading by 66 points.

So long as his advantage is at least 50 by the checkered flag in Mexico City, Hamilton will become just the fifth driver in F1 history to have four titles to his name.

While the result seems a formality given Hamilton starts third on the grid and in light of his recent form, there are still a number of big storylines that are poised to play out in Mexico on Sunday.

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.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton out to win in style in Mexico

Lewis Hamilton may only require a top-five finish to clinch his fourth F1 world title on Sunday, yet the Briton is keen to seal the deal in style by taking his 10th victory of the year.

Hamilton lagged behind Vettel and Max Verstappen in qualifying on Saturday, taking P3 on the grid, but was confident about Mercedes’ long-run pace after an impressive outing in Friday’s practice sessions.

The podium and atmosphere in Mexico are among the most unique of the season, making it a perfect place for Hamilton to be coronated. Doing so in parc ferme will be a little more underwhelming, though.

Vettel, Ferrari seek late-season boost

Sebastian Vettel may be set to suffer just the second title-race defeat of his F1 career (after 2009) on Sunday, yet the German remains fully-focused on giving Ferrari a boost after a rough patch with victory in Mexico.

The high-altitude nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – some 2,200 meters above sea level – means all teams can run with high-downforce setups, playing into the hands of Ferrari, which has already won at similar tracks in Monaco and Hungary.

Vettel’s title hopes may be all but over, but a win here would do wonders to stop the rut and ease some of the pressure on those at Maranello.

Will Verstappen be in the picture?

Max Verstappen almost made F1 history on Saturday, coming within one-tenth of a second of becoming the sport’s youngest-ever pole-sitter, only for Vettel’s stunning final lap in Q3 to deny him in the last moments of the session.

Nevertheless, much as the high-downforce setup required in Mexico has played to Ferrari’s advantage, so it also has for Red Bull. The RB13 car has gone well on high-downforce tracks this year, with Verstappen taking an impressive win in Malaysia, putting him in the frame in the fight at the front.

The start-line drama in Singapore will lead to questions about how both Vettel and Verstappen will handle the long run down to Turn 1, yet both will know this race represents a golden chance for victory.

Perez aims for big result at home

Sergio Perez has been the star figure through the Mexican Grand Prix weekend, flying the flag on home soil, but a poor lap in qualifying left him P10 overall in qualifying.

The result left Perez disappointed, yet all eyes will still be on him to impress on Sunday on a weekend that has seen Mexico come together and show its strength just one month after the earthquake that hit its capital.

The race should be a straightforward one-stop, but Perez’s knack for good tire management could put him in the pound seat to lead the midfield fight should there be any drama ahead.

Force India’s hunt for that elusive podium this year shows few signs of a resolution soon, but if it were to come anywhere, Mexico would surely be the perfect place for it.

Alonso and McLaren ready to fight from the back

One of the biggest surprises of qualifying came courtesy of Fernando Alonso in Q1 as the Spaniard finished fifth-fastest, as well as turning in the best time through the middle sector.

Alonso has played up the true pace of McLaren’s MCL32 car throughout the season, and went as far as saying it was the best in the field after qualifying such was his pace early on.

Grid penalties meant Alonso was always set to fall back, making a pace run in Q2 pointless, but the signs from the team are positive, making his movement on Sunday worth keeping an eye on.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
4. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Esteban Ocon Force India
7. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
8. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
9. Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault
10. Sergio Perez Force India
11. Felipe Massa Williams
12. Lance Stroll Williams
13. Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso
14. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
15. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
16. Kevin Magnussen Haas
17. Romain Grosjean Haas
18. Fernando Alonso McLaren*
19. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren*
20. Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso*

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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