Lewis Hamilton had been hoping to clinch his sixth Formula 1 title as he took the chequered flag at the Mexican Grand Prix. But, agonisingly for the British driver and his legions of fans, he was made to wait for what may well be a foregone conclusion.
Far out ahead of the rest of the field on 363 points, the race left his nearest rival and Mercedes team mate, Valterri Bottas on 289 points. Technically, if Bottas wins all three remaining races in the season and Hamilton is unplaced the unimaginable could occur. But it is, quite simply, unimaginable.
Already well out of contention is Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and the next name in the driver’s championship, Torro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, is tying with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz on a distant 76 points.
In terms of the constructor’s championship, this is a title already firmly in the hands of Mercedes having won 13 out of the 18 races held between the start of the season and the end of October. So Ferrari will have to work hard in the closed season if they want to rise up to dominance of the sport in 2020.
What is especially remarkable about Hamilton’s continued dominance of the sport is the relatively few times that he has been on pole this season. On only four occasions has he managed to do this – in the season opener in Australia and in Monaco, France and Germany. Yet he’s gone on to win a remarkable ten races to date.
Of these, one of the most unexpected has been in Mexico. It was thought that the long straights of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit would suit the Ferraris more and that in the thin high altitude air of Mexico City that the Red Bull team could well prevail. But it wasn’t to be, thanks to the forward thinking of Mercedes’ chief strategist, James Vowles, who persuaded Hamilton that the early one-stop strategy would put him at an advantage. The result was Hamilton’s 83rd grand prix victory and his second in Mexico.
The British Grand Prix which was held at Silverstone this year is always a key point in any season for Hamilton. Naturally, he wants to win in front of his home fans. Luckily for him, this year’s incident-filled race allowed him to do exactly that. Starting second on the grid behind Bottas, the two spent much of the race vying for first place. A decisive moment came when the Alfa of Antonio Giovinazzi suffered a mechanical failure and spun off the circuit. The arrival of the safety car allowed Hamilton to regroup after an advantageous pit stop and assert his dominance over Bottas. He went on to win in style, both picking up an extra point for achieving the fastest lap and setting a new lap record for the circuit of 1.27.369.
While Ferrari promised so much at the start of the season they’ve undoubtedly been left in the wake of Mercedes. But the Belgian Grand Prix suggested that they were getting back on track, being the first of a series of three races that were won by Leclerc and Vettel. The race had a rather sombre air, coming after the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert in Saturday’s Formula 2 feature event. This was to be another incident-filled race with the safety car being brought out twice following collisions and mechanical failures. But Leclerc negotiated all the hazards with ease and held his nerve to maintain a one second advantage over Hamilton, thus claiming Ferrari’s first win since the US grand prix the season before.
This season has also seen the emergence of Max Verstappen as a force to be reckoned with. It was always on the cards ever since he became the youngest ever driver to compete at the highest level, making his first appearance in the 2015 Australian Grand Prix at the tender age of 17 years and 166 days. His two wins this season on Germany and Austria mean he’s definitely one to watch over the coming years.
While it looks like this season is indisputably owned by Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel believes that the remaining races will be vital for building up Ferrari’s momentum to take it into next season. Whether this will really be the case, we’ll be finding out soon enough.