Lewis Hamilton can move a step closer to Michael Schumacher’s all-time Formula 1 record at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, though his celebrations may be put on hold.

Mercedes secured a record-equalling sixth constructors’ championship last time out in Japan thanks to Valtteri Bottas’ third victory of the year after he capitalised on a sluggish getaway from the front-row starting Ferraris.

With the teams’ championship done and dusted, attentions now turn to the drivers’ title fight, with the battle for supremacy in 2019 limited to an exclusive duel between the Mercedes duo.

Hamilton heads Bottas in the standings by 64 points but needs a 14-point swing over Bottas come the chequered flag on Sunday if he is to be crowned champion in Mexico for the third consecutive year.

Mexican GP title permutations: What Hamilton needs to clinch sixth F1 crown

Such a scenario is unlikely barring any reliability issues or mistakes from Bottas, particularly given Mercedes’ recent struggles around the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez venue. No Silver Arrows driver has tasted victory at the circuit since Hamilton's win in 2016.

Hamilton and Bottas finished a distant fourth and fifth last year in an uncompetitive showing and Mercedes acknowledges it could be in for another tough weekend in Mexico City this weekend.

“We know that the four remaining races are not going to be easy and we expect Mexico to be the most difficult one for us,” conceded Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.

“The high altitude of the track brings some fairly unusual challenges as the low air density affects the downforce of the car, the cooling and the engine performance.

“It's a combination that doesn't particularly suit our car, but we will give it everything to try and limit the damage.”

Ferrari versus Red Bull for victory?

Mercedes’ anticipated struggles opens the door for its rivals Ferrari and Red Bull to take advantage and score a consolation victory before the seasons end.

Aside from mishaps at races in Sochi and Suzuka that it arguably should have won, Ferrari has proved the team to beat since F1’s summer break and an aerodynamic update introduced in Singapore that has acted as a breakthrough to unlocking the true potential of the Scuderia’s SF90.

Ferrari won three races on the bounce in Belgium, Italy and Singapore and is seeking to claim a sixth successive pole position. The intra-team battle between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc has proved a fascinating one to follow in recent races and the pair look set to lock horns once again this weekend in Mexico, with Ferrari tipped to be competitive given its current power advantage.

“Over the past couple of years, we have been on an upward trend in Mexico, although Red Bull has been the team to beat,” Vettel said. “But I think the gaps between us are getting smaller, so let’s see how we get on this year.”

But Red Bull has been the form team of late in Mexico, with Max Verstappen notching up the past two victories on offer in 2017 and 2018, while the Milton Keynes squad locked out the front row of the grid last year.

Red Bull has targeted Mexico as one of its best chances to score a third victory of the campaign before the end of the year but Verstappen is remaining cautious, adding: “I expect it to be a little bit more difficult this year because of the Ferrari pace - but I think we can still have a very good race.”

A decision on Verstappen's teammate for 2020 is set to made by Red Bull's hierarchy following this weekend's race, so keep an eye on how Alexander Albon and Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly perform. 

McLaren in pole position to land fourth

Renault’s disqualification from the Japanese GP after being found to be running illegal driver aids has proved costly to the French manufacturer’s hopes of defending its fourth place finish from 2018.

The nine dropped points from Daniel Ricciardo’s sixth place finish and Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10 at Suzuka have placed McLaren in pole position in the fight to come out on top in F1’s midfield battle this year, with the team now holding a 43-point buffer over Renault.

The revitalised Woking squad - spearheaded by new team principal Andreas Seidl and its impressive driver pairing consisting of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris - has led the way in fourth place in the constructors’ championship for much of the season and appears destined to clinch its best result of the V6 hybrid era.

McLaren is still planning to bring updates to the remaining four rounds in its pursuit of sealing the ‘best of the rest’ tag ahead of its engine suppliers, while Renault is running out of time to turn things around and is in need of a big score sooner rather than later.

McLaren’s momentum continued in Sochi and Japan with a sixth and fifth place finish for Sainz as the British outfit maintained its stranglehold over fourth place.

Despite its strong position, McLaren insists it is leaving “nothing to chance” with everything “still to play for” in the midfield scrap.

“As we head into these final few races, our focus remains on maximising the opportunities to score points through work at the track and back at the factory,” Seidl explained.

“Our position in the constructors’ championship is not yet secured and we must keep pushing to ensure we leave nothing to chance. It’s still all to play for and I look forward to some exciting racing.”

Renault may now be forced to look nervously over its shoulders at Toro Rosso and Racing Point, which sit just six and 10 points behind the French squad in sixth and seventh place in the constructors’ respectively.

 

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