If Sergio Perez is ever to realise his dream of winning the Mexican Grand Prix, he must know he will never get a better chance than this year.
Think back 12 months and consider the abiding memory from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in 2021.
Max Verstappen passing both Mercedes cars on the long run to the first corner? The Dutchman winning by 16 seconds to move 19 points ahead in the World Championship?
Surely not. For us, and probably most other people, it has to be the sight of Perez’s father, Antonio, going absolutely crazy as his son finished on the podium at his home race for the first time. And the whole crowd too, for that matter.
So can you imagine the scenes if the 32-year-old Red Bull driver was to…gulp…win in Mexico? The reaction would be absolutely off the charts.
And it could very well happen.
Unlike last year, Verstappen does not need to win this grand prix. He has 13 victories already this season that have secured a second successive Drivers’ World Championship, and Red Bull have wrapped up the Constructors’ crown too.
What do they have left to conquer? Well, Verstappen may want to set a new record for most wins in a season, but also has Brazil and Abu Dhabi at which to do that.
For Mexico, it may well be Perez’s turn for glory, and why not? That can easily be justified by the Guadalajara-born racer being only two points behind second-placed Charles Leclerc in the Drivers’ table, and Red Bull have never previously finished a campaign 1-2 – not even when they and Sebastian Vettel dominated between 2010 and 2013.
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) October 24, 2022
Given the location of this race, and for this race only, Verstappen may well be compliant. But then how would Red Bull make it work when their World Champion is generally so far ahead of everyone else this year?
It could mean venturing into the murky area of team orders, or will Verstappen suddenly need a power-unit change and incur a grid penalty?
We can speculate all we like, but for the first four years of Perez’s F1 career the Mexican Grand Prix was not even on the calendar.
This truly is the best opportunity he will have to win it, with all the stars aligned – and especially, as he has hinted, given he may only have another couple of years left in the sport, not being a fan of the increase to a 24-race schedule from next season as a father of three young children.
But if this is to be the ‘Checo Show’, Ferrari and Mercedes will be keen to spoil the party as they are craving victory for their own reasons – basically having been starved of success by Red Bull since the summer break.
Ferrari have not won since capturing the British and Austrian Grands Prix back-to-back through Leclerc and Carlos Sainz respectively, and we are now at the point when it is all about giving themselves hope for next season.
The Scuderia continue to be much more of a match for Red Bull in qualifying and it is race pace where they struggle – not that Sainz would have much idea about that on recent form.
It is now four first-lap exits this term for the beleaguered Spaniard including at the last two races, spinning out at soggy Suzuka and then spun around in Austin by George Russell which caused a terminal water leak in the F1-75.
Mercedes, via Lewis Hamilton, pushed even closer to a first win of the year in the United States Grand Prix, although the seven-time former World Champion had no answer to Verstappen’s pace as he recovered from a botched Red Bull pit-stop.
P2! Some tough racing out there, it
wasn't easy but we are taking away a good result. Thank you @MercedesAMGF1 for all the hard work this weekend. Let's keep this momentum going for Mexico, see you all next week ~ pic.twitter.com/lJPfpj2WjM
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) October 24, 2022
Toto Wolff was encouraged by the upgrade the Silver Arrows took to the Circuit of The Americas and if it works equally well in the Mexican capital, they could again be the bigger threat than Ferrari to this year’s dominant team.
And still, of now 57 podium finishers this season, only one of them has been from outside of the top three teams, that being McLaren’s Lando Norris all the way back at Imola in April.
Norris continues to drive the wheels off an MCL36 he does not particularly care for and is essentially, with only the odd exception, having to directly compete with the Alpines single-handedly as his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo serves his notice in the style of someone whose only concern is planning his leaving party.
Alpine are waiting to hear whether they will be given back the points stripped from them due to Haas’ protest against Fernando Alonso’s dangling wing mirror in Austin, the next step in that process taking place on Thursday night.
The biggest recent improvers? That has to be Aston Martin, who are now looking much closer to what they had hoped to be this season which is a top-of-the-midfield team.
Arguably they were fourth best at COTA and only a driving error from Lance Stroll, when he moved into Alonso’s path and caused a collision, and a mess of a pit-stop for Sebastian Vettel prevented the team from collecting a haul of points that would have carried them past Alfa Romeo and up to sixth in the championship.
That eventuality now looks inevitable and although it is too late for Vettel to rewind on his retirement plans, there may well be a touch of regret due to the way his team are now starting to make good on their potential.
While P6 is up for grabs, so is P8 between Haas and AlphaTauri with only two points separating those teams.
Mick Schumacher’s position at Haas continues to be precariously balanced and you sense one big moment, either positive or negative, in one of the last three races could determine his fate.
At Williams, Nicholas Latifi reverted to type at Austin after a much better showing in Japan and at least we now know the identity of his successor – Logan Sargeant watching on knowing it will be him as long as nothing goes awry at the F2 finale in Abu Dhabi.