Mercedes and Ferrari are locked in a tense duel for second in the constructors standings and the status of Red Bull Racing’s presumptive 2024 challenger with five races remaining.
After 18 grands prix just 28 points split second-placed Mercedes from Ferrari in third. With a theoretical maximum of 236 still up for grabs — including scores for two sprint races — the battle remains wide open.
After up-and-down seasons, both teams have arrived at a similar and consistent level of competitiveness. Both have scored podiums since the midseason break, including Ferrari’s breakthrough Singapore victory.
While Carlos Sainz was forced to miss the Qatar Grand Prix with a fuel system problem, his absence was largely neutralised by Lewis Hamilton crashing out on the first lap.
The United States-Mexico-Brazil triple-header will go a long way to deciding whether either team will take the upper or hand or if the fight is set to go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.
“The battle for second in the constructors has become more intense in recent races,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “We will keep our heads down, keep pushing and aim to score as many points as we can to increase our advantage.
“We'll be bringing a modified floor, which is the last significant update we will take to the track this year. It will hopefully bring a small gain but, more importantly, is another milestone in setting our development path for [the 2024 car].”
Unsurprisingly after Sainz’s Qatar no-show, Ferrari is staying focused on reliability to maximise its points haul.
“We are about to tackle a very demanding grand prix triple-header, which actually involves five races in three weekends, as there are two sprints,” Ferrari principal Fred Vasseur said. “All team members, including the drivers, will have to be on top of their game throughout in order to make the most of any opportunities that present themselves.
“We must return to the level of execution demonstrated in Singapore and Japan, because that’s the only way to optimise our package so that Charles and Carlos can get the most out of it.”
They may not be alone in their battle, with McLaren a long shot to contend from fifth. The British team has made enormous strides in the second half of the year and is likely to move up to third, ahead of Aston Martin, before the end of the triple-header. It’s an improbable but not insurmountable 79 points behind Ferrari.
Mercedes also has the additional carrot of second in the drivers championship being up for grabs for Lewis Hamilton. Sergio Pérez is only 30 points ahead thanks to an extended slump in form through the middle of the campaign, leaving him vulnerable.
Max Verstappen is the pick for pole and victory (how original), ahead of another chapter in the unpredictable battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, who will move back ahead of McLaren at a circuit less dominated by high-speed corners.
Pole position: Max Verstappen
Podium: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz
Winning margin: 8 seconds
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.