What To Watch For in the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix
From the fastest driver in qualifying not starting on pole to a long run to Turn 1, and a strategic oppor-tunity for those outside the top 10 to a drivers’ title up for grabs, we highlight five key topics to keep an eye out for at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez…
Verstappen fighting back from the second row
Max Verstappen qualified on pole position but received a grid penalty
The drama at the end of Q3 continued after qualifying as the crash for Valtteri Bottas led to Verstappen eventually losing his pole position. Following comments made in the post-qualifying press conference, Verstappen was summoned to the stewards and was hit with a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow for the yellow flags that were out due to the stricken Mercedes.
Verstappen had already set a time quick enough for pole position on his first attempt in Q3 and so was unhappy with the decision, but he still remains in striking distance at the front of the field.
Red Bull showed strong long run pace on Friday and Lewis Hamilton was expecting Verstappen to be really tough to beat in the race, but now the Dutchman will have to pass the championship leader and both Ferraris.
A crucial Turn 1 run
Over 800m to the first braking zone could shuffle the order
And Verstappen’s first opportunity to make up ground will come on the run to Turn 1. At 811.1m to the first braking zone, drivers will reach over 300kp/h as they approach the first corner, making the braking point crucial and often leading to incidents.
While the two Ferraris line up on the front row, the pair had been hoping to overhaul Verstappen using their straight line speed advantage, but now will be having to defend as Hamilton and Verstappen - and the rest of the field behind - have the ability to pick up a tow.
Wet weather on the radar
Race day comes with a chance of thunderstorms
There has been rain every day during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend so far, but it has generally fallen in the morning or evening and not had a major impact on track action. A drying track meant a damp FP3 on Saturday, but the race could be the most weather-affected session.
There is a chance of thunderstorms early in the afternoon on Sunday, but if they are to materialise they are likely to develop after the start of the race, meaning teams will have an eye on the sky in case the weather has an impact on their strategic choices.
Perez well-placed in P11
Soft tyres aren’t expected to last long in the opening stint
Speaking of strategy, it is going to be key on Sunday as the soft compound tyre is not the preferred one to start on. At high altitude, the cars are sliding around despite high downforce levels and that means the tyres do not last long.
It was clear how keen teams were to avoid the softs by the tyre choices in Q2, with Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, Toro Rosso and Carlos Sainz all trying to advance on the medium compound. The top three teams all managed to, but Sainz, Lando Norris, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly all needed to use the softs to reach Q3 and will start on that tyre.
That leaves the driver in 11th place sitting pretty, and that’s home favourite Sergio Perez. The Mexican can already bank on amazing support from the grandstands but he’ll also be helped by the ability to choose the tyre compound he starts on, potentially opening up a one-stop strategy while the four cars ahead of him are likely to two-stop.
Lewis Hamilton can win the drivers’ championship
While the home fans will be cheering for Perez, they could also be set to witness the drivers’ championship being won by Hamilton for the third year in a row.
Hamilton has not been on the podium in each of his last two visits to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez but still managed to score enough points to wrap up the title. On those occasions there were only two further races to follow in the season, but this year there is a third as the United States Grand Prix will follow next weekend, so he has a taller order to wrap it up in Mexico.
Hamilton needs to finish in the top three to have any chance of winning the title, as he must outscore team mate Bottas by at least 14 points. If Hamilton wins and Bottas is no higher than fifth, he will be champion, while the added point for a fastest lap will give him the title even if Bottas is fourth.
Should Hamilton finish second, he’d need Bottas to be no higher than eighth and not set the fastest lap, or ninth if the Finn does pick up the extra point. And finally if Hamilton is third and sets the fast-est lap then he will win the title if Bottas is no higher than ninth, while third place and no fastest lap will be good enough if Bottas is tenth or lower and also doesn’t set the fastest lap.
With Hamilton starting third and Bottas provisionally sixth after his qualifying crash, any one of those scenarios could play out.