Rosberg back from the brink
If Nico Rosberg becomes F1 world champion for the first time at some point over the next four weeks, how much significance will be placed on his front-row-saving lap in the final throes of Mexico qualifying?
It’s not only that it promoted the German two places on the grid, maintaining his immaculate top-two qualifying record for 2016 in the process, but it represented his response to an age-old sporting hurdle: Pressure.
Qualifying Report: Hamilton on pole, Rosberg rescues second
As, make no mistake, on a weekend when he could even clinch the title, Rosberg was under bucket loads of it when he left the Mercedes garage for those final runs.
It’s often never that simple in F1, of course, and Rosberg’s acute problem this weekend has been centred on tyres and generating enough temperature into them for a hot lap. Up until that final run, he hadn’t finished any session within three tenths of Hamilton. Even the Briton admitted afterwards the situation had been “a bit unusual”.
So credit Rosberg for at least partly solving his woes on that final lap and staving off any inevitable pre-race headlines suggesting he was showing the first signs of ‘cracking’ under the title strain.
When is Sunday’s Mexican GP on Sky F1?
“That has turned his weekend round totally,” remarked Sky F1’s Martin Brundle. “All of a sudden he’s got a chance to be first into the first corner, whereas if you’re fourth or fifth you’re in the danger zone.”
Plenty of challenges await at the race start, namely avoiding a repeat of Austin and getting overtaken by a supersoft-tyre shod Red Bull, but Rosberg has shown himself adept at dodging one bullet this weekend already.
Hamilton sticking to his only script
As a relaxed-looking Lewis Hamilton himself acknowledged after securing his second commanding pole position on consecutive Saturdays, he can do no more.
The fastest Mercedes driver in practice, the fastest Mercedes driver in the first two segments of qualifying, Hamilton claimed his 59th career pole with just over two tenths to spare despite a Q3 performance he claimed was “not good”.
Lewis surprised to see Nico second
“I feel very strong with the car, our procedure and what we’ve got to do,” he told Sky F1. “I’m here, I’m enjoying driving the car and that’s all I can do, enjoy and drive to the best of my abilities.”
Since his rumpus with the media in Japan, Hamilton has been in a breezy mood since arriving in North America, his happiest of second homes, and has repeatedly let his driving do the talking.
Both his racing and, perhaps more critically given the particular permutations of the title race this weekend, his luck will have to remain at high levels if what stands as a 26-point deficit to Rosberg moves back below the equivalent of a race win heading to Brazil.
Red Bull have a home from home
Since splitting the two Mercedes at Singapore, when Daniel Ricciardo out-qualified Hamilton behind Rosberg, the team have locked out the second row for all four of October’s races.
In Malaysia, Max Verstappen was third and Ricciardo fourth.
In Japan, Verstappen was third and Ricciardo fourth after both Ferraris were demoted.
In America, Ricciardo was third and Verstappen fourth.
And this weekend, Verstappen will start third and Ricciardo fourth.
You have to admit, they are consistent.
Nico Hulkenberg has a new lease of life
Since agreeing his move to Renault, Nico Hulkenberg seems to have moved up a gear, producing another superb qualifying performance in Mexico.
The Force India driver was fifth quickest, ahead of both Ferrari cars which had looked capable of challenging for a front row start at one point, and a long way ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez in 12th.
Over half a second separated the pair – a huge margin, particularly when the lap is under 80 seconds in total.
Hulkenberg had a similar advantage in Texas the week before where he was the sole Force India in Q3 – the weekend after his new deal was announced.
The German enjoyed a similar surge in form over Perez after winning Le Mans in 2015. Having been outperformed by his team-mate in five of the previous six races, the newly-crowned winner of the 24-hour race returned to F1 and reached Q3 in Austria while Perez went out in Q1, and he continued to hold an advantage at Silverstone in the subsequent race.
It seems good news provides the boost Hulkenberg needs to perform.
Pascal Wehrlein strengthens his case
He was given a harder time than most expected on Saturdays by the much-maligned Rio Haryanto, but Pascal Wehrlein is now assured of winning his qualifying duel with Manor’s mid-season arrival, and fellow Mercedes junior, Esteban Ocon. It could be significant, too.
Wehrlein’s impressive progression to Q2 in Mexico, on a day when Ocon was half a second off his pace and 21st, means he has established an unassailable five-two lead in qualifying with just Brazil and Abu Dhabi to come.
The head-to-head record at Manor in 2016
Amid a battle in which any kind of direct ‘win’ could have big ramifications for who Mercedes end up placing in seat further up the grid, that’s a handy feather in the German’s cap.