The drivers' and constructors' championships are in the bag for Red Bull, but this weekend's Mexican Grand Prix is no dead rubber.
There are lucrative rewards for each position gained in the final constructors' table and some fierce battles are raging in the midfield. Alpine are nine points ahead of McLaren in their season-long battle for fourth, while just 17 points separate sixth-placed Alfa Romeo from AlphaTauri in ninth.
|What||Mexican Grand Prix|
|Where||Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City|
|When||20:00, Sunday 29th October 2022|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
|Odds (qualifying)||Max Verstappen 6/5, Charles Leclerc 7/4, Sergio Perez|
Meanwhile the passionate local fans would love nothing more than to cheer their hero Sergio Perez to his third victory of the season. Last year the Red Bull driver became the first Mexican to celebrate a podium finish on home soil. As was the case north of the border in Texas last week, the second practice session was given over to testing next year's Pirelli tyres, so Friday's action provided fewer clues than usual. But there were a few pointers as to what direction the rest of the weekend may take.
The opening practice in Mexico was a promising one for Ferrari as Carlos Sainz headed the times just ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc. It was a session of fine margins with Fernando Alonso just 0.192 seconds off the lead pace in sixth fastest. More good news for the Scuderia is that they were right on terms during the qualifying simulation runs and, more importantly, appeared to have a slight edge over Red Bull on longer runs.
It all went wrong for Leclerc in the later session as he made heavy contact with the wall, destroying the rear end of his Ferrari. That won't have done his gearbox any good, but since teams tend to use well worn powertrain parts on Fridays at this time of the season, the Monegasque driver should avoid a penalty for replacing it.
Race pace has been an issue for Ferrari for most of the season, but Leclerc has managed to put together a run of five consecutive podium finishes. His charge from 12th on the grid to finish third in Austin last time, while assisted by fortunate timing of a safety car, was arguably the team's best showing in a race since before the summer break.
Sainz had earned his second career pole position in Texas before being taken out of the race by George Russell at the first corner. That followed another lap-one exit in Japan and the Spaniard is due a change of luck, but he has at least saved a bit of wear on his pool of race engines. Sainz is a 6/1 chance for a North American pole position double with Leclerc a 7/4 chance for his tenth pole of the season, but Verstappen heads the qualifying market at .
Lewis Hamilton came within seven laps of breaking his duck for the season in Texas last week and the early signs are that Mercedes could be capable of challenging again in Mexico. The Silver Arrows were around three tenths off the leading pace in both qualifying and race trim in practice, but significantly they looked well clear of Alpine and McLaren.
Qualifying behind a midfield interloper has hurt their chances on a number of occasions this year but a decent grid slot may give Hamilton and Russell a chance to harangue the Ferraris and Red Bulls in the race. Russell was fastest in the second session, but was one of the five drivers excused from the tyre test for the first 45 minutes of the afternoon session, as they had given up their seats to rookie drivers in opening practice.
Hamilton is 11/1 for a win that would keep up his streak of at least one victory every year of his career - a record he has only two more chances to extend after this weekend. He is for his eighth podium of the season.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel retires at the end of the season but he has shown some of his best form since his glory days in recent races. Vettel has started in the top ten at each of the last two races and put in superb battling displays to finish sixth in terrible conditions in Japan and eighth in Texas.
The German passed 3,500 laps in the lead as he briefly led the field last week and would have finished higher had the team not botched his pit-stop. Vettel was tenth fastest in first practice in Mexico with his Aston Martin in the thick of the midfield battle, and he is a chance to pick up more points on Sunday.