MEXICO CITY: If things go his way, Lewis Hamilton can clinch his sixth drivers’ world title triumph in the rarefied atmosphere of the Mexican Grand Prix this weekend.
It would be a monumental achievement, nudging him ahead of five-time champion Juan Fangio and making him the second most successful driver in Formula One history behind only Michael Schumacher whose seven titles between 1994 and 2004 remain the pinnacle.
The 34-year-old Englishman, though, holds out little hope of either winning the race at a venue ill-suited to the strengths of his Mercedes car or sealing the title.
“Mexico is generally our worst race of the year because of the way our car is set up and it’s going to be a tough one for us,” said Hamilton.
History shows that this is one of his least favoured tracks – he has won just once, in 2016, in four races although he did enough in 2017 and 2018 to secure the world titles in Mexico.
Hamilton, who leads the championship by 64 points with four races, including Mexico still to come, knows he can take a cautious approach without scrapping for victory on Sunday.
He will secure the title by out-scoring his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who lies second, by at least 14 points. But he accepts that the Finn will be a very competitive rival and unlikely to wave him through to the chequered flag.
Both the in-form Ferrari team and Red Bull, for whom Max Verstappen will hope to complete a hattrick of Mexican victories after his wins in 2017 and 2018, have high hopes of success at a track where Mercedes have admitted they expect to struggle.
“The last few have been pretty shocking even though we’ve won the title there,” said Hamilton.
“I’m hoping for a better weekend but I think it’s going to be very hard to beat the Ferraris on those long straights.
“We have no hope of passing them, that’s for sure, and if you look at the others, McLaren are picking up serious speed and so are the Red Bulls. It will be a tricky one for us.”
The Briton added that he was not expecting a Mariachi party to celebrate his title.
“I don’t anticipate it will be Mexico,” he said. “I think we will be battling for a good few races.”
Although Mercedes completed a record sixth consecutive constructors’ and drivers’ championship double at the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month, the team have been overhauled by Ferrari, in terms of pure speed and performance, since the Belgian Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc won in Belgium, where Ferrari began a run of five successive pole positions.
That domination yielded three victories, two for Leclerc and one for four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, and two opportunities lost due to mistakes and misfortunes.
“After two races in which we could have done better, we arrive in Mexico determined to win,” said Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto.
“We will be aiming for our sixth consecutive pole, before looking to convert that into victory.”
Vettel, who took pole in Japan but missed out on his second win this season after making a poor start, believes the altitude of Mexico makes a big difference.
“We race with maximum down-force, but, since we are racing so high above sea level, the air is very thin and the cars actually produce very little down-force.
“On the long straight, I think we see the fastest top speeds of the season, which makes it difficult to manage the corners.”
“The last couple of years, we have improved in Mexico but Red Bull are the team to beat.”
Social media splashback
Hamilton may also use the weekend as an opportunity further to set the record straight after his recent comments on “giving up because the world is in such a mess”, posted on Instagram and quickly withdrawn, provoked a social media storm.
Hamilton has been vocal about his decision to go vegan but as a frequent flyer and as a racing driver whose team is sponsored by an oil company, he has been accused of hypocrisy.
Two-time F1 champion and former teammate Fernando Alonso suggested in a radio interview on Monday that he should keep his views to himself.
“I think I would keep my eating habits to myself,” the Spaniard told Spanish radio station Cope.
“We all know the lifestyle that he can lead, or that I can take, and that Formula One drivers take 200 planes a year. You can’t then say ‘don’t eat meat’.”
Like the drivers’ title race, this is also unlikely to end in Mexico.