A golden opportunity for Red Bull 

Heading into this weekend’s 18th round of the season, Max Verstappen holds a 12-point championship lead over Lewis Hamilton, while Mercedes has a 23-point advantage over Red Bull. 

With 133 points still up for grabs across the remaining five races, both world titles remain wide open. 

Red Bull and Verstappen are widely regarded as favourites for Mexico City’s first race in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Mercedes has racked up three wins in the last five events in Mexico, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit has traditionally been considered to be a Red Bull track. 

This is largely down to the circuit being situated 2,285 metres above sea level, meaning the air is almost 25% thinner. The higher altitude puts all of an F1 car’s vital systems such as the power unit, gearbox and brakes under greater strain. 

Mercedes’ previous power advantage has been typically equalised in Mexico, handing an advantage to its rivals, with Red Bull winning in 2017 and 2018 when it was powered by Renault. The team’s competitiveness remained following a switch to Honda power with Verstappen fastest in qualifying in 2019 before he received a grid penalty. 

Mercedes is bracing itself for a potentially difficult weekend at one of its ‘weaker’ venues, and with engine reliability concerns continuing to linger, Mexico could present Red Bull and Verstappen with a golden chance to take advantage.

If Verstappen wins and teammate Sergio Perez can put his car ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes, the Dutchman will find himself heading to another high altitude circuit in Brazil in a commanding position in the championship. Such a result would also see Red Bull claw back its deficit to Mercedes in the teams’ standings. 

Will Perez be allowed to win his home race? 

For the first time in his F1 career, Sergio Perez arrives at his home race in machinery that gives him a realistic shot of winning the Mexican GP. 

Perez has already become Mexico’s first-ever F1 race winner, and this weekend he could create further history by being the first Mexican to win their country’s grand prix. 

However, it is hard to imagine that Red Bull would not order its drivers to swap positions if it found itself in a scenario where Perez was leading Sunday’s race directly ahead of teammate Verstappen. 

After all, ensuring Verstappen beats Hamilton to the drivers’ title is Red Bull’s number one priority. 

Red Bull knows Verstappen needs to score maximum points at every opportunity to give himself the best shot of claiming his maiden world title and protect himself against unknowns like reliability further down the line. 

With Perez out of title contention, Red Bull can ill afford to get sentimental with the championship entering its closing stages and such a tough call my be required this weekend - even if it would be a bitter pill for Perez to swallow. 

Red Bull has already indicated what it is willing to do to boost Verstappen’s title prospects when it gave up a 10th-place finish for Sergio Perez at Silverstone by pitting him to deny Hamilton the fastest lap bonus point.

It decided against sacrificing Perez’s hard-fought P3 on the podium in Austin by repeating that strategy, something Red Bull team principal Christian Horner conceded would have been “brutal”. 

Ferrari to overhaul McLaren? 

Ferrari’s recent resurgence following the introduction of its upgraded engine has helped it dramatically reduce the deficit to McLaren in the battle for third place in the constructors’ championship. 

The Italian outfit sits just 3.5 points behind McLaren after outperforming its arch rival for the second consecutive race in the United States, with Charles Leclerc claiming a comfortable fourth, more than 20 seconds clear of Daniel Ricciardo. 

Ferrari’s impressive performance in Austin led Lando Norris to admit that its recent power unit update has “tipped” the balance in the Scuderia’s favour going into the final five races of the season. 

"They definitely have the edge at the moment,” Norris said. “Not quicker in every place but just a car which is more consistent than us and more driveable.

"But that doesn't change the way we'll try and keep pushing to stay ahead. It's not what we want so late in the season, we've got to try and do something more to get back ahead of them.” 

Despite McLaren boasting the headline-grabbing results with a superb 1-2 at Monza, Ferrari is threatening to snatch P3 away from Woking right at the end. 

Ferrari’s performance at COTA has left it feeling confident it can potentially leapfrog McLaren in Mexico given that it was able to outscore its rival at a venue that was expected to play to the strengths of the MCL35M. 

“I think we have been clearly faster and, I think on paper, it was not a circuit which was suiting obviously our car,” said Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto. 

"That's why I'm pleased with the progress I've seen in the last races, and certainly the help of the power unit, both for quali and the race. That gives me some confidence for the next races."

Can AlphaTauri catch Alpine? 

Alpine’s 15-race points-scoring streak came to an end in disappointing fashion in the United States, with both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso forced to retire with mechanical problems.

Even though AlphaTauri failed to fully capitalise on the misfortune of its nearest rival in Austin, Yuki Tsunoda’s ninth place finish means Alpine now only has a 10-point cushion in the fight for P5 in the constructors’ championship. 

AlphaTauri should be strong once again at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez thanks to the combination of Honda’s competitiveness at higher altitude circuits and due to having the faster car out of the two teams more often than not. 

Alpine will be determined to hit back in Mexico, but Alonso and Ocon have largely been restricted to the lower-end of the top 10 this season. 

With Tsunoda improving and Pierre Gasly more than capable of translating his car’s potential into a big result, Mexico and Brazil - the scene of Gasly’s maiden podium for Toro Rosso in 2019 - could be important weekends in the outcome of this midfield tussle, and possibly sway the scrap in AlphaTauri’s favour.