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Mexico preview - uncharted territory for Rosberg

27 Oct 2016

For the first time this season, the 2016 title fight can be settled this weekend in Mexico - should Nico Rosberg win the race and Lewis Hamilton finish 10th or lower, the German would be champion. So does history beckon - or can Hamilton claw back further ground in the pair's increasingly tense battle for the drivers' crown?

All eyes on the Silver Arrows

Hamilton breathed new life into his title hopes last weekend in Austin, beating Rosberg to both pole and victory. It was the Briton's first victory since Germany in July, halted Rosberg's run of four wins from the last five races - and brought the gap between this year's championship hopefuls down to 26 points with three races left in play.

That, of course, means Rosberg could theoretically clinch the crown this weekend, should results go his way. The German has never been in such a strong position before - he can finish second, second and third in the remaining races and still clinch a maiden title. As has been his mantra all season, Rosberg insists he is just taking it one race at a time - but you can bet father Keke will have his fingers crossed as we head into the final three races, as Nico bids to emulate his title success of 1982.

Hamilton, meanwhile, will be hoping his historic 50th Grand Prix win in the USA is the springboard for a title resurgence. The Briton - not helped by reliability issues - has been on the back foot more often than not this season, but is determined to push Rosberg all the way to the wire.

"I can't get fixated on [Rosberg's fortunes]," Hamilton says. "I have to focus on mine, and I am hoping for these last three that I’ll have 100 percent reliability - that would be a real breath of fresh air.

"I’ve just continued to keep a positive frame of mind, avoid dwelling on the past, work and train hard and I knew eventually the result would come. The moment you give up is the moment you lose. I’ve never been one to give up and I don’t plan on starting now.

"There are still plenty of points available and anything is possible..."


Will Red Bull be a factor in the title scrap?

Since Baku in June, there has been just one race in which Red Bull have not had at least one driver on the podium. And given events in Austin last weekend - where Daniel Ricciardo might have finished ahead of Nico Rosberg but for the timing of the Virtual Safety Car - it's not hard to see how the charging bulls could weigh in on Rosberg's duel with Lewis Hamilton.

Ricciardo and Max Verstappen might both point to Abu Dhabi as their best remaining chance for a victory in 2016, but even so don't discount the pair this weekend - especially if rain does materialise on Sunday, which forecasts suggest has a 50 percent chance of happening.

"Looking at it on paper, I would say Abu Dhabi is probably where I fancy my best chances," is Ricciardo's take, "but Mexico is going to be a completely different track to last year, so we'll see.

"It's been a while since we had the sort of magical Brazil downpour so maybe we can get one of those this year and have a chance. We'll keep trying, keep doing what we can. Obviously they're hard to beat but maybe next time the Virtual Safety Car will help us out..."


A big weekend for Sergio Perez...

However you slice it, this is the weekend of the year for Force India's Sergio Perez, racing on his home turf.

"Mexico City may be quite far from my city of Guadalajara, but I go there very often for professional reasons," he says. "It's a city I love and there's so much going on: the best restaurants, so many sights and so many things to do. It is a huge city and sometimes traffic makes going from one side of town to the other feel like an adventure! 

"It is, not surprisingly, one of my favourite moments in the season and last year's race was special not just for me, but for my team and for anyone who came to the race.

"I have no doubt this year's event will be even better than last year - expectations are huge following the success of 2015. For me, the biggest surprise was the passion of the fans: all the affection I received, all the messages and all the incredible moments I experienced are what really made an impression on me. I am so happy to come back here.

"The track itself is brilliant: my two favourite parts are the fast Esses and the Foro Sol. It's a very technical circuit, with some tricky corners: at the speeds we are doing, managing the car is very complicated and it's important not to lose your rhythm. There is no key place where you can make or break your lap, except perhaps the slow section inside the stadium: you have to nail the combinations of corners to be able to string together a good lap. I am really looking forward to trying the track surface – last year, the asphalt was completely new, so this year it should be a big improvement."


...and for Esteban Gutierrez

It's also going to be a very big deal for Esteban Gutierrez. The man from Monterrey has competed in 56 Grands Prix, but this will be the first time at home as he becomes the sixth Mexican to participate in a race here after Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, Moises Solana, Hector Rebaque and Perez.

"It's a very special week for my whole career," says the Haas driver. "It's probably one of the best two weeks of my career because it represents so much to racing, to motorsports in Mexico in general, and to me. It's a kind of connection where I can share my passion for racing and what I do with all Mexicans. I feel grateful for their support.

"Last year was great. I could live the event from a different perspective working with Ferrari, but now it will be even better when I will be racing there. I'm very excited to enjoy that.

"The atmosphere was amazing. I enjoyed it so much. Obviously, I would have liked to have been racing, but that was my position and the reality is that I wanted to enjoy it in that perspective. It was a very special weekend and I felt very proud to see all the fans having a huge interaction. It turned out to be one of the best events of the season.

"Now I will have a lot of pride to race here. As a Mexican in Mexico, you can imagine how special that is. And of course I will cheer to the people. They are there supporting us and they make the difference to make a fantastic event happen. It's their support and their interaction which provides the best environment for an amazing event."


WATCH: A bird's-eye guide to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

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Mercedes go conservative on tyre strategy

Pirelli's tyre nomination here is exactly the same as it was for the United States Grand Prix last weekend: white-marked mediums, yellow-marked softs and red-marked supersofts. And once again teams must use either the medium or the soft at some stage during the race. 

Mercedes have opted for the most conservative approach of the frontrunners, selecting five sets of supersofts for Hamilton and Rosberg - as opposed to six for Red Bull and Ferrari. Teams like Williams and Force India have opted for seven sets, while Toro Rosso have gone ultra aggressive and brought eight sets of the red-marked tyre.

Predicting who has made the right call is tricky however - the circuit will have changed since last year, with the surface expected to have evolved since teams first visited in 2015.

"While the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is to all intents and purposes a new circuit, there's a fantastic sense of history behind it, as the name suggests, supported by an incredible number of fans," says Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery. "The stadium section alone is one of the most electrifying experiences of the year.

"We raced here last year but there's a strong possibility that the track has evolved since then. We're also bringing the supersoft for the first time, so it will be important to assess all these new factors during free practice, which could present some interesting alternatives to the two-stop strategy that proved to be by far the most popular option in 2015."

In terms of weather, there is a chance of showers in the evening of Friday and Saturday - and also on Sunday from around 1300 hours local time - in other words when the race starts. It will run over 71 laps, or 305.354 kilometres (189.738 miles).