Mexico GP: Lewis Hamilton ‘on track to become greatest F1 driver’

After the razzmatazz at Austin, Formula One moves onto to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit this weekend for arguably its biggest party of the year.

Since its return to the calendar two years ago, the Mexican Grand Prix has established itself as one of the most popular venues that drivers go to all year mixing old-school racing charm with a fiesta vibe in the grandstands.

What the remodeled track may have lost in flat-out thrills — the wickedly fast Peraltada corner may have sawn in half — it has made up for with its stadium section, a vast amphitheater which drivers weave through watched by nearly 30,000 screaming, flag-waving fans.

It’s here, amid a blizzard of ticker tape and pyrotechnics, that Sunday’s podium ceremony will take place and where, in all likelihood, Lewis Hamilton will officially be crowned 2017 F1 drivers’ championship.

Ten points is all that separates Hamilton from a fourth Formula One world title and becoming the most successful British driver of all time.

He’s also on the road to becoming the greatest F1 driver ever, according to his team boss Toto Wolff.

“Lewis is about to break all records that have been set in Formula One, and it is just a matter of time that people will say he is on track to being the best driver that has ever existed,” Wolff told the UK’s Press Association.

“This is the best Lewis — both on and off the track — that I have worked with since 2013.”

Near faultless form

It’s been an incredible turnaround for the Mercedes driver who trailed title rival Sebastian Vettel by 14 points after 11 rounds following the German’s win at the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July.

Three months, six races, and five wins later Hamilton has surged to a 66-point lead over Vettel with three races to go.

Hamilton need only finish fifth on Sunday to bury any lingering hopes Vettel has of becoming the first Ferrari driver to win a world title in a decade — his teammate Kimi Raikkonen pipped Hamilton to the 2007 title by a single point.

After starting the season so strongly, Ferrari’s title challenge has spectacularly fallen away. First there was the calamitous start to September’s Singapore Grand Prix where Raikkonen and Vettel crashed into one another. Two races later, there were red faces when a spark plug failure ended Vettel’s race after four laps in Japan.

The embarrassment has been magnified by Hamilton’s near faultless form which has yielded 143 points from a possible 150 in the second half of the season.

Mercedes renowned reliability hasn’t been quite up to previous seasons but Hamilton has been able to weather the technical glitches to claim 11 poles and nine victories — Vettel has managed three poles and four wins this year.

F1’s arrival in Mexico City will once again will coincide with preparations for the annual Day of the Dead festival which starts on October 31. Ferrari and Vettel can only pray that Sunday’s race will be the starting point for an improbable resurrection.

Verstappen eyes podium

After watching Hamilton speed away in the title race, Vettel now needs to focus on securing second place in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is currently 21 points behind the German with Daniel Ricciardo a distant fourth, 52 points behind the Finn.

Perhaps the most interesting battle as the season reaches its climax will be the fight between Raikkonen and Max Verstappen for fifth place in the standings.

The Red Bull driver is 40 point in arrears and will be hunting Raikkonen down in Mexico after being demoted to fourth at the United States Grand Prix for an illegal overtake on the final lap of the race. Stewards handed Verstappen a five-second penalty when his car narrowly left the track during the pass.

The Dutchman was livid, calling the steward who made the decision an “idiot,” and his team boss Christian Horner was fuming too, branding the decision “poor.”

Verstappen was whisked away from the drivers’ cool-down room — a scenario that echoed what happened at last year’s Mexico Grand Prix where he was hit with a five-second penalty for leaving the track while defending against Vettel during the latter stages of the race.

Vettel would later be demoted himself as stewards penalized him for colliding with Daniel Ricciardo who was eventually awarded third place.

“In Mexico I will try my best to get on the podium this year. I was very close to it last year, but unfortunately in the end it didn’t work out for us,” Verstappen said diplomatically.

The 2017 Mexican Grand Prix takes place on Sunday October 29

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