Mercedes head to Mexico City with their business in the Constructors’ Championship already complete, but the inter-team battle goes on.
After a dominant display for Ferrari in qualifying at the typhoon-affected Japanese Grand Prix, Mercedes came good in the race and Valtteri Bottas’ win, coupled with Lewis Hamilton’s P3 and bonus point for fastest lap, meant the Silver Arrows wrapped up their sixth straight Constructors’ title.
Other results went their way meaning Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are now all mathematically ruled out of the title race, so Mercedes are guaranteed to be six-time Drivers’ and Constructors’ double champions, officially making them the greatest outfit in F1 history.
But, the last major piece of business to attend to now is which of the two Mercedes men will secure the Drivers’ title.
Heading into the Mexican GP, which will see F1 return to its three-day schedule to the frustration of several drivers, Hamilton holds a near unassailable lead over his team-mate and can actually win his sixth Drivers’ Championship at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez if results go his way.
But, Bottas showed at Suzuka that he won’t go away quietly, though with a 64-point deficit to his team-mate, the Finn may have no choice.
Mercedes haven’t tasted victory in Mexico since 2016, but Bottas does hold the race-lap record of a 1:18.741 set last year and that’s bound to give him confidence.
On the subject of confidence, over at Ferrari it remains to be seen if their confidence has taken a hit. In both Russia and Japan the gremlin which has seemingly followed them throughout 2019 cropped up again – they squandered a golden opportunity for victory.
The team also head to Mexico licking multiple wounds. Vettel came in for some criticism after going unpunished for a jump start at Suzuka, yet Kimi Raikkonen got a drive-through penalty for a similar error in Sochi.
This could have been very nasty.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) October 14, 2019
Leclerc also had a race to forget, collecting Verstappen at the start and then carrying on with a broken front wing against FIA orders to pit.
When the stewards did decide to U-turn on their original decision not to investigate, 15-seconds worth of time penalties came Leclerc’s way, while Ferrari were forced to part with €25,000 for not bringing their driver in soon enough for repairs.
So in Mexico Ferrari need to get themselves back in the Formula 1 good books, but for Red Bull they simply need to get themselves back into Formula 1.
Since the summer break Ferrari and Mercedes have taken a clear step away from Red Bull, leaving them in “no mans land” to steal a phrase from Alex Albon.
The Anglo-Thai driver recorded his career best finish of P4 at Suzuka, also setting an identical time to Verstappen in qualifying, so the team do have a positive heading into Mexico knowing that their new No.2 driver is starting to find his feet.
But undoubtedly the biggest comfort Red Bull have ahead of the Mexican GP is that Verstappen goes there looking to make it a hat-trick of wins.
The Dutchman won here in 2017 and 2018, but if he wants a third win, then he’s going to need all the power that Honda engine can give, and a boost from Red Bull’s new fuel beyond what we saw in Japan.
In the midfield battle Carlos Sainz continues to shine. The McLaren man held off Albon for lap after lap before finally caving, but another P5 finish represented a stellar job from the Spaniard.
His team-mate Lando Norris may well have finished up there with him if it wasn’t for earlier contact with Albon, but McLaren continue to hold fort in P4 in the Constructors’, while Sainz is now up to P6 in the Drivers’ Championship.
It’s a far less certain time for rivals Renault. P6 for Daniel Ricciardo and P10 for Nico Hulkenberg secured a double-points finish for the team at Suzuka, or did it?
SportPesa Racing Point filed a protest against them after the race for an alleged automatically adjusting brake bias system – the FIA have seized equipment and their investigation is underway.
Maybe Racing Point should be more friendly towards automated systems, after all, if it wasn’t for a glitch which caused the chequered flag to fly one lap early, Sergio Perez’s trip into the barriers would have dumped him out of the points, but he instead finished P9.
We may have more answers over the futures of both of these systems before this weekend’s race gets underway.
For Toro Rosso and Pierre Gasly it was a story of continuing the recovery process – the Frenchman crossed the line P8, even if he did have an angry Perez to deal with after their incident, giving him his third points finish since returning to the junior team from Red Bull during the summer break.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner has said that the second seat for 2020 is “Albon’s to lose“, so Gasly will be targeting another strong showing in Mexico to further raise his stock for a recall.
Alfa Romeo right now just need any strong showing of some kind. Not since his McLaren days has Kimi Raikkonen gone five races without any points, but P14 at Suzuka ensured that he equaled that record, while Antonio Giovinazzi had to settle for P16.
For Haas it was also a weekend to forget, P17 for Kevin Magnussen who crashed out of Q1 and P15 for Romain Grosjean. We would say that Mexico is another chance for these teams to get back on some kind of form, but really they are probably targeting the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi so they can move on to next season.
For Williams 2019 has been a dismal season, but it’s ending on a sour note with Robert Kubica teeing off on the team at seemingly every opportunity, knowing he’s out the door when the season ends.
In Japan he accused the team of “crossing boundaries” by removing the updated front wing from his FW42 before qualifying without an explanation. So, Williams will just be hoping for a quiet Mexican GP as they slowly move towards the finish line of a year to detest, never mind forget.