Qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix threw up a few surprises, but there's a familiar name at the front as Max Verstappen lines up on pole position for the sixth time this year.
The now double world champion is seeking a record 14th win of the season and it's an ominous sign for his rivals that Verstappen has converted four of his previous five poles to victory. The Red Bull ace is to win the race.
|Mexican Grand Prix|
|Where||Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City|
|When||20:00, Sunday 30th October|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 4/7, Lewis Hamilton 10/3, George Russell 6/1, Sergio Perez 13/2, Charles Leclerc|
Single-lap pace has been an Achilles heel for Mercedes this season, but they enjoyed their strongest Saturday of the year in Mexico City, claiming second and third on the grid.
It has been a humbling campaign for the Silver Arrows, whose hopes of clinching a ninth consecutive constructors' championship never looked realistic from the early stages of the season.
George Russell grabbed his first career pole in Hungary and led the early part of the race, but in general they have struggled to match Ferrari and Red Bull in qualifying all year.
Russell lamented a disastrous final lap in Mexico qualifying, but his earlier attempt was good enough for second, while the omens are good for Lewis Hamilton, who lines up third. The driver starting from that grid slot has won the last two races at this circuit.
The run to the first corner is the longest of the year and allows drivers to make use of slipstream heading towards the first braking point - a luxury not available to the pole-sitter, who punches a hole in the air for those following.
Mercedes have tended to show stronger form in races than in qualifying, thanks to their car being particularly kind to its tyres. However, a major worry is their lack of straight-line speed.
The high altitude of Mexico City helps level the playing field to a degree, as the thin air mitigates the drag issues with the car's chassis, but Hamilton and Russell have still been significantly slower on the straights than their main rivals.
Even if Verstappen falls behind one or both Mercedes on the opening lap, he will surely breeze past them on the straight - the circuit's only viable overtaking point - in the next few tours.
Ferrari have been the undisputed qualifying kings in 2022, but they surprisingly weren't in the hunt in Mexico.
Carlos Sainz claimed his second career pole in Texas last week, but could manage no better than fifth, while Charles Leclerc - nine times a pole-sitter this season - was just seventh.
Sainz pointed out that had he combined his best three sector times of the day into a single clean lap he would be on the front row. But the slippery circuit and thin air left them scrabbling for grip and slithering their way around the track.
Filling the cars with fuel should help anchor them to the road, and there were certainly promising signs in terms of race pace from Friday's practice, where they looked in the best shape of all.
A first win in nine races looks beyond the Scuderia unless some drama befalls Verstappen, but they won't have given up on salvaging a podium.
Sainz has not seen the end of the first lap in either of the last two races, and surely his luck must change soon. The Spaniard is a 9/4 shot to reach the top three while Leclerc - aiming for a sixth straight podium appearance - is to keep the run going.
Even if they get bogged down in traffic as they make their way through, there is a high safety car probability during the race which could help them catch back up to the leaders. Every race since the circuit returned to the calendar in 2015 has seen at least one safety car appearance.
Finishing fourth in the constructors' championship might not sound like a big deal but there is a much bigger payoff than for finishing fifth.
McLaren and Alpine have squabbled over the spot all year, and the French team currently have the advantage by 11 points with three races to go including Mexico.
The four cars begin the race in spots eight to 11 on the grid, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon the meat in a McLaren sandwich.
Lando Norris has been the most consistent of the quartet, picking up points in nine of the last ten races. The McLaren man finished sixth in Texas last week and is to at least match that feat this evening.
Alonso made a miraculous recovery to seventh in the USA after smashing into the back of Lance Stroll as they battled for sixth position, and the two-time world champion is a chance to finish among the leading sextet in Mexico City.