Max Verstappen became the first man in Formula One history to win fourteen races in a season with victory at the Mexican Grand Prix, as the Mercedes challenge failed to materialise on race day.
A different tyre strategy gave Mercedes hope of a first victory of the season, but Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second once again, with Sergio Perez coming home in third place.
The start of the race turned out to be crucial, with pole position traditionally not the best at this circuit due to the 800m run towards turn one. Red Bull started Verstappen and Perez on the softs to give themselves the best chance versus the medium-shod Mercedes cars, and it worked out with Verstappen able to retain the lead, and Perez able to get ahead of Russell. Barring pitstops, it remained that way in the top four, with Ferrari unable to challenge in what was the Italian squad’s slowest weekend of the season.
Given the high altitude nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez stretches the cars’ cooling to the limit, it was perhaps unsurprising to see the field managing their cars throughout the early stages. Despite this, Red Bull weren’t able to stretch their soft tyres much beyond lap 20, with Perez the first of the front-runners to pit on lap 23, and Verstappen coming in two laps later. Both were put on medium tyres, raising the question as to whether they’d be able to manage these enough to get to the end, or whether they’d go aggressive and push for a two-stop strategy.
The pace of these fresh mediums was clear to see, especially on Perez’s car, with the Mexican setting fastest lap after fastest lap as a cacophony of cheers followed him around the circuit. Mercedes were forced to react to stop Hamilton from being undercut by Perez, with the Brit coming in on lap 29 for hard tyres.
George Russell was adamant that he wanted to stay out on the mediums for as long as possible, in an attempt to change to the soft tyres at the end of the race. Eventually, he was called in on lap 34, again for a set of hard tyres.
Mercedes were hoping that the mediums would degrade enough to give them a chance of taking victory for the first time this season, but Hamilton spent most of his second stint looking in the rearview mirrors at Perez, rather than closing the gap to Verstappen. Although the Mexican did briefly get within DRS range of the Mercedes, Hamilton’s superior pace through the final sector meant that, as was the case last year, an overtake was never really an option. From here on in the positions looked set in stone, with Verstappen, Hamilton and Perez cruising home to take the podium places, as Russell finished in fourth place after a late stop for softs, in order to secure the fastest laps. Carlos Sainz finished in fifth place ahead of Charles Leclerc in sixth, with the Monegasque driver now dropping behind Perez in the fight for second in the standings.
As is often the case in Formula One, it was the midfield that provided most of the action. Fernando Alonso led this pack for the majority of the race, after jumping the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas at the start. Unfortunately, reliability problems struck the Spaniard once again, and he retired for the fifth race this season, in what could be a big blow in Alpine’s battle with McLaren for fourth in the championship.
One of the few drivers to go for a medium-soft strategy was Daniel Ricciardo, and he utilised the red-walled Pirellis superbly, securing seventh place despite picking up a ten-second penalty for a collision with Yuki Tsunoda, which led to the Japanese driver’s retirement. Ricciardo overtook Lando Norris, Bottas, Alonso and Esteban Ocon in the final stint – in what was by far the Australian’s strongest showing this season. Ocon came home eighth ahead of Norris, with Bottas holding on to take tenth for his first points since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.
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Ricciardo’s pace on the softs at the end may have left many drivers wondering what could have happened to their races if they had gone longer in the first stint – notably Hamilton and Russell. Mistakes from both drivers in qualifying helped Verstappen to secure pole position. Still, the Dutchman’s pace on race day was once again on a different level – with Verstappen also now having the record for most points in a Formula One season, with two races still to go. However, as Max is one of the first to admit, the points system and amount of races in a season now mean these records are perhaps easier to secure in the modern era.
After a week that was dominated by talk of cost-cap punishments, Red Bull will be glad they could do their talking on the track once again – in what is now their most successful season in the sport. With Brazil and Abu Dhabi still to come, you’d be a brave person to bet against Red Bull and Verstappen securing the top step on the podium once again this season.