Lewis Hamilton will be chasing his fourth Formula One season championship from behind Sebastian Vettel. At least from the start.
Blistering late laps by Vettel and Max Verstappen will have Ferrari and Red Bull starting 1-2 at the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday with Hamilton to start third. Hamilton leads Vettel by 66 points in the season championship with three races left and can win it if he finishes fifth or better.
Hamilton won on this track last year and was clearly annoyed at not only being denied pole position but the front row as well. He has insisted all week he wants to win the season title with a victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, a track he conquered last year.
"We're still in it for the win, I think," Hamilton said.
A good start could get him out front on a track that features a starting grid on one of the longest straights of the F1 season, a design that plays into the Mercedes engine straight line power.
"It's a long way to turn one," Hamilton said. "We ought to have some fun."
He'll also want to avoid any kind of trouble in front of him. Vettel and Verstappen started 1-2 at the Singapore Grand Prix when Vettel's sudden move across the track triggered a crash that took out both cars.
Hamilton zipped through the opening from fifth to take the victory in a race the proved a critical turning point in his championship fight with Vettel. That crash changed Ferrari's fortunes this season as Hamilton stormed to his big lead with two more wins since then.
The first turn in Mexico City could be just as wild. All three drivers were involved in incidents there last year when cars drove into the grass and came back. Hamilton wasn't penalized for his move, but Verstappen was and it cost him a podium finish.
Race officials have placed new curbs at the first turn so that any car venturing into the grass will have to take a long, slow route to return.
"Personally, I don't like it. We might as well put a wall there," Vettel said.
Verstappen predicted the drivers will have to be more cautious out the long straight.
"Those curbs stop you from breaking ridiculously late" Verstappen said.
Verstappen has been on a late-season surge with a victory in Malaysia and a second-place finish in Japan. He thought he had another podium last week at the U.S. Grand Prix until he was penalized for an improper pass on the final lap. An engine upgrade last week in Texas has him pushing Hamilton and Vettel around the track.
"I'm super annoyed," at not getting pole position, Verstappen said. "I could have gone faster. Second is still a good place. I was hoping for more."
Hamilton is closing in on a championship that would put him past some of the greatest drivers in F1 history and alongside others. A fourth title would break the record for British drivers and he would join Vettel and Alain Prost, who each won four. Only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) have won more.
Vettel won his 50th career pole position on Saturday and isn't quite ready to concede the title to Hamilton. He says Ferrari will push to win the final three races. Even if he does, it would take a rare Mercedes collapse somewhere along the way for Vettel to win the championship. He briefly held the lead last week in Texas only to quickly surrender it to Hamilton without much of a fight.
"We'll run our race," Vettel said. "There's no point looking at what Lewis is doing."