Our drivers talk fantastic atmospheres, race weekend targets and potential Championship deciders ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix…
The 2018 Formula 1 season will enter the home straight in Mexico, with only three races left.
Lewis goes into the weekend with a 70-point lead over his nearest rival in the Drivers’ Championship, Sebastian Vettel. Indeed, the title could be won as early as Sunday, but nothing is decided yet.
"If I were sitting at home, making toast for breakfast and just watching the races on TV, maybe I would want the title chase to go right through to the end," says Lewis. "But I am not at home, and when you are actually living in the situation, you just want to get it done."
Lewis obviously understands the fans would rather see the title battle continue to the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi. "I think there have been times where we finished a little bit earlier in the year, and the rest of the season then wasn't as exciting as if the Championship had gone right down to the wire. But when you are in it, the pressure is just so intense that, the sooner the pressure is off, the more you can enjoy yourself. Because that pressure is very intense. Even if we have opened up a gap as big as the one we have now, there are still lots of points available, and lots of things that can go wrong."
At the same time, it's not only Lewis who has a great deal at stake in the Drivers' Championship: "There are a lot of people relying on me. I also want to win the Constructors' title for the team. At the last race, we lost some ground. There are so many people in the team, and you actually feel the pain for them all because you want to deliver for everybody. I feel like I've done everything I could, but coming here this weekend and going into these next races, I believe that the team has earned the position it is in, and I need to secure that title because it can make a big difference for them too."
Despite the amount of pressure weighing on the shoulders of the drivers and the team, everyone is approaching the Mexican Grand Prix like any other race.
"Obviously the priority for us is to get as many points as possible this weekend as a team, and Lewis clearly has a great opportunity here to win the title," Valtteri admitted. "First, I really want to focus on having a good performance in qualifying and then, on race day, we'll see how it goes."
Valtteri hasn't won a race so far this year, so a victory is high on his agenda: "I'm looking forward to the last few races when I'll be trying to win at least once this year, and if it doesn't come off, then I'll be looking forward to next year."
However, recent races have shown that the competition is as fierce as ever. As well as Ferrari, Valtteri is expecting Red Bull to put in a good performance.
"I think it could be a challenging weekend," says our fast Finn. "We know that Red Bull were very competitive here last year, as were Ferrari in qualifying and also in the race. They had good race pace."
But Valtteri is convinced that the team can rise to the challenge of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. "We've improved many areas of the car since last year. I think we struggled with similar issues last year in Singapore, but then this year in Singapore worked out OK with the car we have now. Hopefully we've fixed some of the issues we struggled with here last year and can be more competitive."
Like Valtteri, Lewis also expects it to be a three-way battle for the lead: "Ferrari were quick in the last race, so you have to assume they will be quick here as well. "Red Bull have a great car, and they are going to be really fast this weekend; it's going to be hard to beat them. They came second in the last race, and I think they will be strong in both qualifying and the race this year. I am kind of excited about that."
Mexico City returned to the calendar in 2015 and has quickly become a firm favourite for drivers, teams and fans. "I am so happy to be back in Mexico," says Lewis. "I really do enjoy coming here. The food is great, the people are super energetic and always smiling. I was really blown away by how big this city is."
But it is not only the city that has won Lewis's heart - the atmosphere generated on the grandstands is simply amazing. "That Mexican wave energy that you get here is much appreciated," adds Lewis. "The atmosphere is pretty great. They come with sombreros, they are chanting. I think it is the culture that really shines through. That's why I like coming to Mexico. I am really happy that we have a race here."
The height of the track above sea level presents the teams with a special challenge. "The altitude actually makes a big impact," says Valtteri. "It is much tougher for the cooling of the car. The tyres overheat more easily, the brakes overheat, and the engine overheats. So, all in all, cooling efficiency is going to be a really big part of the performance. Also, the turbos of the engines are going to have a really hard time."
It's also a big challenge for the drivers. Valtteri explains: "You have to breathe a bit deeper, and your heart rate might be a bit faster than normal during the race. It has always been OK physically, because it's not one of the most demanding tracks in terms of lateral G forces, but it is going to be a challenge for both man and machine."
Three races before the end of the season, thoughts are obviously turning to 2019. "We only expect things to get tougher," Valtteri said.
In a year such as 2018, where there have been no major regulation changes, the pack normally bunches up. "Preparations for next year started a long time ago," Valtteri added. "At the moment we have a strong team, we have all the facilities, all the key people and everything that is needed to stay at the top, but it is going to be completely up to us whether we can do that."
Mental resilience plays a key role: "We need to keep the winning mentality and not rest on our laurels. We always need to keep pushing for more, because every other team is pushing as well. Consequently, the team needs to set itself clear objectives. We don't have one team in particular as a target to chase like the others have. We need to make sure we set our own targets and meet them."
Looking towards the winter break, Valtteri is hoping to end the year on a positive note, but his main focus is on hitting the ground running next year: "I think maybe in the initial part of the winter you can notice a difference, but afterwards you are only thinking about the next season and preparing for it, working with the team, training and all of those things. I am aiming to end the season on a high, but it is not everything in terms of next year."
For the moment, though, it's all eyes on the race weekend in Mexico. "For the rest of the year we try to do the best job we can," Valtteri added. "I am not thinking about numbers or points or the championship but going out there to deliver and to make the best of the package we have."