Lewis Hamilton takes his second shot at wrapping up a sixth World Championship in Austin, and this time the odds very much favour him.
The Mercedes star could have claimed his sixth crown at the Mexican GP, but it was a long shot – he needed to outscore team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 14 points or more to get the job done, and while Hamilton did win the race, P3 for Bottas meant the title fight rolled on.
But at the United States Grand Prix the math is far more simple. Hamilton only needs to outscore Bottas by four, so P8 or above will see him crowned World Champion.
But true to the racer he is, Hamilton remains focused on trying to see out the campaign in winning fashion, and his victory in Mexico City proved it.
For Ferrari their season may be done in terms of both Championships, but really they have plenty of unfinished business – they must find a way to compete with their rivals on the pit wall.
The Scuderia didn’t expect Hamilton to be able to nurse his hard tyres all the way to the end of the Mexican GP after pitting on Lap 23, not even he did, but the Brit managed it and that track position was enough to hold off Vettel and claim the victory.
Charles Leclerc had started on pole ahead of Vettel, but a two-stop strategy for him, along with an error from the mechanics at his second trip into the pits, meant Leclerc ultimately crossed the line P4.
It’s clear Ferrari now have the performance to compete with Mercedes, but if they are to take the fight to them consistently in 2020, they now need the strategical brains to match and evidence of that has to start showing as early as the United States GP.
For the first time since the summer break Red Bull were in the fight around the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Max Verstappen qualified on pole, that was until the stewards demoted him three places after he failed to lift in Q3 under the yellow flags covering Bottas’ crash.
In the race we saw the unfortunate return of ‘Mad Max’. Incidents with Hamilton and Bottas saw him sink to the back of the pack, though he eventually recovered to finish P6.
Alex Albon meanwhile ran P3 in his first stint, but a two-stop strategy which got him caught up with Carlos Sainz saw his race ruined as he came home P5.
Mexico is a track that always favoured Red Bull, Verstappen claimed victory there in 2017 and 2018, but the Circuit of the Americas is much further down the list on happy hunting grounds for the team.
Hamilton is the king of this place having won here five times, including a streak of four consecutive wins between 2014-17, while Red Bull haven’t featured on the top step of the podium since Vettel put them there in 2013.
So, it may well be a return to running a lonely P5 and 6 for Verstappen and Albon, if they keep their noses clean.
Or maybe Sainz can cause the Red Bulls a few more problems in Austin? The Spaniard continues to be the standout driver in the standout midfield car, that being the McLaren, but the team actually arrive in Austin with a point to prove.
Sainz praised McLaren for thinking “like a big team” for the first team this season when they tried to make Q3 on the medium tyres to be able to start the Mexican GP on that compound.
— onboardtime (@onboardtime1) October 27, 2019
Sadly they didn’t quite have the pace, and from there it all went downhill. Lando Norris was released from his first stop with a loose wheel, and by the time McLaren had pushed him back to secure it, he was a lap down.
Meanwhile Sainz’s two-stop strategy proved disastrous as he went from running in P4 on lap one to crossing the line P13. It’s clear now that McLaren have the fourth-fastest car at most tracks Formula 1 goes to, and they will be out to prove it again at the United States GP as they look to take a step closer to securing P4 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Renault power has always excelled in Mexico, and the works team proved that with Daniel Ricciardo taking P8, as hard as he tried to make the move on local hero Sergio Perez, while Nico Hulkenberg would have finished higher than P10 if he hadn’t have been shunted into the barriers on the last lap by Daniil Kvyat.
That midfield battle is closer than ever heading into Austin. Nine points separate Renault in P5 to Racing Point in P7 – Toro Rosso sit in between but are tied with Racing Point on 64 points.
Renault feel they have the fourth-fastest car on their day, Racing Point are targeting that claim by the end of 2019, and Toro Rosso also have some performance up their sleeves with a rejuvenated Pierre Gasly to boot.
Below that what can be described as a lower-midfield battle has now formed, consisting of Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams, but none of these teams are really scoring points.
You have to go back to Hungary for Kimi Raikkonen’s last points haul, while Alfa team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi is also on a three-race baron spell after P14 in Mexico.
Haas have turned their attention to 2020, but they would still love a strong showing in front of their home crowd, while Williams’ brief performance gains seem to have dried up.