Not far behind Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s F1 title showdown comes an equally pulsating fight between two of the world championship's oldest foes; Ferrari and McLaren. 

The long-standing rivals arrive in Mexico City split by just 3.5 points going into the first of five races during an intense six-week conclusion to the season. 

Ferrari enjoyed an upswing in performance in Turkey and the United States, enabling the Scuderia to rapidly reduce McLaren’s cushion over third place in the constructors’ championship. 

A recent engine upgrade is predominantly to thank for Ferrari’s recent gains and its ability to comprehensibly out-perform its main rival at the last two events. 

But it is McLaren who still holds the advantage in the championship table heading into the season’s climax, albeit only by a whisker.  

“They hold the advantage,” Carlos Sainz told media on Thursday in Mexico. 

“Obviously the last couple of races in Turkey and Austin, we have been the quicker car, while in Russia and Monza they were clearly quicker. 

“If anyone of us does a mistake then the other team jumps ahead, so it’s really tight and it’s really good fun actually - it’s a great battle. 

"I just hope we can win it and come out on top but I wouldn’t pick one right now, I think it’s equal terms.” 

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Ferrari expected McLaren to hold the upper hand in Austin and was left pleasantly surprised by its competitiveness after Charles Leclerc claimed a convincing fourth place, more than 20 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo

Its US Grand Prix performance leaves the team feeling confident about its prospects at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. On F1’s last visit to Mexico City in 2019, Ferrari’s drivers started on the front row following a penalty for Max Verstappen. 

“On paper it should be a better track for us compared to Austin,” Leclerc said. “But it is also true to say that sometimes we have had good and bad surprises compared to what we expect on paper so let’s not get carried away too much and again, focus on our job. 

"But it should be quite a strong race for us if we compare ourselves to the other midfield teams.”

While he does not expect the battle over P3 to be settled until the chequered flag waves in Abu Dhabi, Leclerc sounded optimistic about Ferrari’s chances of overhauling McLaren in the upcoming rounds. 

“We are still chasing them - we are not in front of them, so it’s going to be very, very tight because they are a very strong team, very consistent from the beginning of the year, so it’s not going to be easy,” he added. 

“But as I said we are working well as a team since the beginning of the season. Every time we brought things [upgrades] it went in the right direction. 

"So it’s looking good but again, we need to try and do everything perfect until the end of the season and I’m confident we have got chances to finish ahead of them in the championship.”

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What about McLaren’s chances in Mexico? 

McLaren held the advantage during the early stages of the campaign but the momentum has swung back towards Ferrari as the season has progressed. 

That is despite McLaren boasting the headline-grabbing result of the year with a remarkable 1-2 finish in Ferrari’s own back yard at Monza. 

Ricciardo admitted the “duel” between McLaren and Ferrari is becoming impossible to predict, especially with two ‘unknown’ tracks still to come in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. 

“Every race now we will get the same question and the same challenge,” the Australian said. 

“It is really a duel for third in the constructors. Ferrari got a few points on us in Austin, but we certainly put up a good fight. I think you will probably see that again here. 

“On paper I do not know how this track will suit us. I think it’ll actually be pretty decent, but who knows. 

“Generally they have a good package at the moment, so we are going to have to work for it every weekend until the end. But I am looking forward to it, it is nice to have these battles.”

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McLaren may have lost ground to Ferrari in recent weeks, but Ricciardo’s teammate Lando Norris insists morale and confidence remains as high as ever at Woking as the team looks to round out the season on a high. 

“It’s a good mood,” Norris stressed. “We are motivated, we are working hard. 

“It is tough and It is hard to know where you’re going to be every weekend because it has always been close since the beginning of the season. It is not like we have run away with it at any point. It has been close since the beginning of the season. 

“But it is tense. We are working hard, everyone back in the factory is working hard to try and find these last little things we need for the rest of the season. But Ferrari are strong, you have to give it to them, they have come on very strong since the second half of the season, and especially the last few weekends. 

“So we are putting up a fight and we can definitely bring it to them to the end, that is the plan.”

Asked how he expects McLaren to fare against Ferrari in Mexico, Norris replied: “We will have to wait and see. I look forward to getting back on track and driving. 

“It is one of the more fun circuits of the season and it is tricky because of the altitude and the way the car handles on this type of circuit. 

"A good mixture of slow, medium, and high-speed corners. The slower speed corners, I would say is more of a strength [of Ferrari’s] compared to us, and then the higher speed is more of a strength of ours compared to them. So it swings both ways. 

“So as expected, and as it has been all season, it is going to be close between us, and we will do our best and hopefully come out on top.” 

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