MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Last year’s race winner Max Verstappen expects Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix to be his and Red Bull’s best chance of another victory this season.
The 21-year-old Dutchman, a winner in Austria in July, told reporters on Thursday that he expected it to be better also than last weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix in Texas where he started 18th and finished second.
“This is definitely the best chance for us,” he said of the 19th round of the 21-race season.
“We’ll try to set up the car in the best way possible and we’ll find out how we’re going to perform. I don’t think in qualifying we have a chance but in the race we anyway seem to be working a lot better, so I expect this to be better than Austin.”
Championship leaders Mercedes and Ferrari have been battling for the titles in a season that has seen Red Bull safely third but still some way off the top two teams whose engines are the best on the grid.
Red Bull, who also won in China and Monaco with Australian Daniel Ricciardo, use Renault power units with Tag Heuer branding but are switching to Honda next year.
The altitude of Mexico, the highest race on the calendar at 2,200 metres above sea level, means the internal combustion engine produces less power in the thinner air and puts more emphasis on aerodynamics.
“I think the engines will be a little bit closer because it’s just a bit more difficult for them to breathe,” said Verstappen, who won in Mexico last year after starting on the front row next to Ferrari pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel.
“Downforce-wise you lose a lot of performance and then it’s more about mechanical grip and stuff... and I think our car is very good mechanically, anyway, also aerodynamically.”
The championship situation could also play into Red Bull’s hands, with leader Lewis Hamilton needing to score only five points to take his fifth title. The Briton will also take the title if Vettel fails to win on Sunday.
A Verstappen victory would therefore be good for Hamilton, but the youngster expected Hamilton to be still focused on winning.
“It will be close between them in qualifying and I think we will be a little bit behind but in the race we definitely have a chance,” he said.
“About Lewis, I think as a driver you always want to win so I don’t think that changes a lot.”
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar