Few would have bet the race for the Formula One Drivers Championship would still be alive going in to this weekend's Mexican Grand Prix - F1's third-last test of 2018.
Before Sunday’s US Grand Prix in Texas, it was just 11/8 that Lewis Hamilton would win his fifth crown, with the Mercedes driver starting on pole and title rival Sebastian Vettel in fifth - but needing to finish second, if Hamilton won, to keep his championship dream viable.
After a crazy race, which involved: perhaps the tensest laps of the season, a first victory for Kimi Raikkonen in 113 races, the most marginal of pit stop errors, and two big overshoots, the title is still mathematically on as we head to Mexico.
In Texas, Lewis Hamilton did have pole, but Kimi Raikkonen had the softer tyres, and took the lead into the first corner, leading to a game of cat-and-mouse. Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel spun out, putting him in 12th and seeming to hand the F1 2018 title to Hamilton on a plate.
Mercedes appeared to have made the right choice by pitting earlier, but their middle stint was too long. He was caught in traffic long enough to put him behind Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who looked as if he’d be passed on Turn 18, before Hamilton ran wide and lost his chance.
Vettel meanwhile fought back up to fifth after spinning early, and then had Valteri Bottas run wide after his tyre troubles, giving him fourth late on. As valiant a performance as it was from Vettel, Hamilton now needs to finish no lower than seventh in the Mexican GP to finish the job - and he surely should do so, barring accident.
Overtaking: The 1.2km home straight is one of the prime overtaking opportunities at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, and if one can get a strong slipstream, combined with DRS, it can be extremely difficult to defend against such a move.
Turn 4 is also another prime spot, with breaking from 200mph down to 50mph for a sharp corner, brining slipstream and DRS into play, with the option of late breaking down the inside, although going past the outside of Turn 5 does also offer a chance to counter attacks.
Stay alert for any drivers running wide on the exit of Turn 5, or making a late entry to Turn 6. Small errors in this part of the track are common, thus creating opportunities on the inside.
The most challenging part of the circuit is the middle section from Turn 7. One can remain on the throttle for a reasonable extent and the consecutive nature of turns 8, 9, 10 and 11 will punish any mistakes. In addition, Turn 12 is off-camber and downhill. Turns 16 and 17 also offer chances, essentially combining as one corner.
There is no longer the need for Mercedes and Hamilton to win at all costs, but it is notable how Mercedes lost the performance advantage in Texas that they’d had through the past four Grand Prixs - in Japan, Rusian, Singapore, and Italy.
Max Verstappen gave the drive of the day, finishing second despite starting from 18th, thanks to problems in practice. The Red Bull car has been the only machine consistently able to go toe-to-toe with the Ferraris and Mercedes, and the Dutchman held up beautifully around the incredibly tight corners in Texas.
The weekend before he’d taken third after starting fourth and since Spain – all the way back in May – he now has eight podiums. Another bold bid would be no surprise at a track which suits him and the Red Bull perfectly and the 5/1 for Verstappen to win that William Hill offer is worth taking, along with the 3/4 for a podium finish.
Another bet to have is our traditional staple – that of the double points finish for Force India. They would have had another one in Texas when Sergio Perez came over the line in 10th, Esteban Ocon having finished eighth, but he was disqualified for exceeding the fuel flow on the first lap. Without Ocon's DQ, both cars would have finished in the points in eight of the past 10 races.
Force India are a best price of even-money with 888Sport to finish with double points once again in this weekend's Mexico Grand Prix - a race in which the same two drivers finished 5th and 7th last year, and the two cars finished 7th and 10th in 2016.
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