By Neil Leverett
- Round 18 of the Formula 1 season drops into Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the Mexican Grand Prix
- Just five races of the campaign remain with Max Verstappen retaining 12-point lead over Lewis Hamilton
- Second of three races taking place in the Americas, with Interlagos to follow next weekend as triple-header begins
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – As Formula 1 rolls on across the Americas, can Max Verstappen take a decisive step toward the title at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix?
Mexico poised for pivotal race
With 17 races of the 2021 Formula 1 season in the books, just five Rounds remain of the campaign, with the battle on all fronts reaching a fevered conclusion as the Mexican Grand Prix rolls into view.
As Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez hosts its 13th Mexican GP, one Max Verstappen will be hoping any superstitions will be left firmly on the back seat in the country’s capital city.
A fortnight on from claiming his first F1 win since a home Dutch GP at Zandvoort, the Red Bull driver begins the weekend with a double-figure World Drivers’ Championship lead for the first time in months.
Now with eight victories under his belt for the season, the 24-year-old will this weekend look to take a sizeable step in his quest to dethrone rival Lewis Hamilton from his iron chair, as three successive weekends of racing arrives.
The Briton however, will be not be in any mood to give up what has been a classic title duel in 2021.
Verstappen keen to ‘focus’
Notwithstanding, the statistics are in Verstappen’s favour this weekend.
Winner here in two of the last three races, the Dutchman sits on a rare similar perch as Hamilton, sharing two GP wins apiece in Mexico.
The favourite for back-to-back wins in the shadow of Mexico City, much has been made of the extra pressure the Red Bull man is now holding, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff this past week having told the Daily Mail that a similar Prost-Senna finale could be possible.
Already with a string of collisions on the the track this term with his rival, talk of Verstappen’s first real opportunity at F1 title has heaped the onus on the Red Bull man, but as Verstappen told F1.com, he is just keen to concentrate on matters on the track.
“I don’t really think about previous historic fights between two drivers, what they have done – that’s the past.
I just focus on what I have to do on track and that’s to try and do the best I can, and that’s how at the end of the day you’re going to win the championship: you have to try and get the most available points out there and of course try to beat your rival.”
But Verstappen may this weekend have to share the spotlight with his teammate Sergio Perez, as the Mexican competes in his first home GP with genuine aspirations of victory.
The Guadalajara native is a hero in his native land, level on two GP wins with compatriot and former F1 driver Pedro Rodriguez – whom together with his brother Ricardo, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – ‘The Rodriguez Brothers’ – is named after.
As Checo paraded in front of the fans in his Red Bull on Thursday, Perez’ popularity cannot be underestimated, and set to roll onto the circuit now as a race winner, will be highly motivated to become the first Mexican driver to win in front of the fiesta stands and only the second man from the Americas, after Ayrton Senna‘s 1989 victory.
Hot off the heels of successive podium finishes in Turkey and last time out in Austin, Perez will be a threat for top honours this weekend, not least if Red Bull keep up their recent form in on Mexican shores.
McLaren-Ferrari battle ramps up
The chase for third place meanwhile, continues to be a cat-and-mouse affair, with now just 3.5 points separating Ferrari and McLaren in the Constructors’ battle.
As keenly fought as the title race has been, the return to form of both Scuderia and the rise once more of the former giant Woking manufacturer has been a treat for fans during this vintage campaign.
Daniel Ricciardo has been a seamless metaphor for such revitalisation, but the Perth driver is aware that Ferrari may now be on the verge of finally leapfrogging them in the standings, as he mooted in passing in build up to this weekend.
The whisperings of Lando Norris however, were a little more bullish, and with McLaren’s stellar history at Interlagos to come in Brazil in just a week’s time, Mexico should add the perfect spice to the picture before then.
The 2021 Formula 1 Gran Premio De La Ciudad De Mexico takes place at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City, this weekend.
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